Donald Trump has tried to backtrack on his criticism of Theresa May’s Brexit plans – but has instead confirmed the fears of many Tory MPs over the policy.
During a press conference on Friday afternoon, the US President said a trade deal between the UK and the US “would absolutely be possible” after Brexit, despite telling The Sun that May’s negotiating position had ruled one out.
But speaking at Chequers alongside the Prime Minister, Trump went on to attack EU rules on farming standards – something the UK would still follow after Brexit thanks to the “common rulebook.”
The lack of divergence on rules in the farming sector is one of the main concerns of Tory MPs opposed to May’s plan, and they will see Trump’s statement as proof that the Brexit plan will indeed thwart a trade deal.
However, Trump ruled out May pursuing “no deal” – a move favoured by hard Brexiteers – saying there was no way the Prime Minister could walk away from the Brussels talks without an agreement.
During the hour-long press conference, Trump went out of his way to praise May, and admitted he had apologised to her for The Sun’s front page today.
The press conference kicked off with the PM telling reporters from the UK and US that a trade deal between the two countries would be discussed after Brexit.
“We agreed today, that as the UK leaves the European Union, we will pursue an ambitious US-UK Free Trade Agreement,” she said, adding: “The Chequers agreement reached last week provides the platform for Donald and me to agree an ambitious deal that works for both countries right across our economies.”
When asked about the potential for an agreement, Trump said: “The only thing I ask of Theresa is make sure we can trade, that we don’t have any restrictions.
He added: “If they go a certain route, I just said that I hope you are going to be able to trade with the United States. I read reports where that won’t be possible but I believe that after speaking with the Prime Minister’s people and representatives and trade experts it will absolutely be possible.”
While it seemed Trump had backtracked on his criticism of the Brexit plan, as the press conference went on he flagged up areas of concerns with the US’s current trade with the EU.
He said: “They have barriers that are beyond belief. Barriers where they won’t take our farm products, they won’t take many of our things, including our cars. They charge us tariffs on cars far greater than we charge them.”
While the UK would be able to charge lower tariffs on cars under May’s Brexit plan, the Government would still be bound by Brussels rules on goods and agricultural products.
Speaking to HuffPost UK after the press conference, Tory MP Nigel Evans, who backed Brexit in the referendum, said he was not completely reassured by Trump’s remarks.
“If Liam Fox can play golf he should leg it to Scotland tonight - if he can’t salvage a trade deal with the President then the white paper isn’t worth salvaging,” he said.