Brexit Bulletin: A Bad Trade-Off?

(Bloomberg) -- Today in Brexit:  Theresa May has to decide how much to push back against the Trump administration’s tariffs on steel and aluminum. Was it worth being so chummy? 

One of the noteworthy features of Prime Minister Theresa May’s foreign-policy strategy has been her determination to get close to Donald Trump. They’re not natural allies on a personal level: The cautious, reserved British prime minister has far more in common with, say, Angela Merkel. As Tim Ross reported earlier this year, May struggles to get a word in during her conversations with Trump.

But whenever May’s aides were asked about the domestic political cost of inviting Trump for a state visit to Britain, or declining to criticize him over undiplomatic comments about terror attacks on British soil, they would point to the big prize: A U.S.-U.K. trade deal.

This, they said, would help make Brexit the success that May declared it would be.

Brexit Bulletin: A Bad Trade-Off?

That looks a distant prospect today, after the U.S. invoked national-security rules to put tariffs on steel and aluminum from the European Union, Canada and Mexico. In response, the EU is looking at hitting American jeans, motorcycles and whiskey.

The mystery is why May’s team ever thought Trump would deliver on trade. Sure, he regularly promises a deal, but he’s never hidden his skepticism about the benefits of free-trade agreements. And his reputation as a deal-maker isn’t for being generous to the other side. For all that, each time Trump promised the U.K. a “very, very big” deal, Downing Street would react with delight. The mood there yesterday was a little more somber.

Trade Secretary Liam Fox urged against starting a trade war with the U.S. But if Britain blocked EU retaliation, that would mean deciding that siding with Trump was worth upsetting European countries during Brexit negotiations.

May will, we are told, raise the steel-tariff question with the president when she meets him at the G-7 in Canada next week. If she can get a word in.

Today’s Must-Reads

  • The Sun reports that Brexit Secretary David Davis’s latest plan for Northern Ireland is a Lichtenstein-style “joint status” and a 10-mile-wide “buffer zone” along the border. There are only two problems, the paper says: Neither the EU nor Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists, who are keeping May in power, are likely to agree to it. Sam Lowe, trade expert at the Center for European Reform, offered a snap judgment: “I totally don’t get it.”
  • British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is used to people on the right of his party urging him to fight against Brexit, even though he’s largely maintained his lifelong hostility to the EU. Now a campaign group on the left of British politics is pushing him to announce that a vote for Labour would be a vote against Brexit. He’s unlikely to go that far.

Brexit in Brief

Not Going Dutch | The European Medicines Agency is likely to lose more than the 19 percent of staff it previously expected when it moves – because of Brexit – from London to Amsterdam next year, its executive director tells Bloomberg. Staff are reluctant to relocate because of the difficulties of moving families, Guido Rasi said. 

The Long Goodbye | Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said in his “personal view” the Brexit transition period might need to be extended beyond the end of 2020.

Staying in Line | Brexiteers often cite the ability to move away from EU rules as one of the advantages of leaving. But the difficulties that Northern Irish brewers face with proposed alcohol-labeling rules in Ireland illustrate the limits of that argument. 

Do As I Say, Not As I Do | Former U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson, a longtime advocate of Brexit who chaired the Vote Leave campaign, has set out how he’s preparing for Britain’s departure from the EU: He’s applying for French residency, to allow him to continue living in southwest France. He told Connexion he was finding the bureaucracy “tiresome.”

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