‘Ignored on Afghanistan and now on trade’: Boris is mocked over cunning plan to join US-Mexico-Canada free trade area after Biden snub – with US saying there is NO WAY to get into the pact and UK ALREADY has deals with Canada and Mexico

  • Boris Johnson held talks at the White House with Joe Biden last night, in his first visit since becoming PM
  • President dashed hopes of quick Transatlantic trade deal warning that it needs to be ‘worked through’ 
  • Ministers are considering a fresh line of attack trying to join an existing US-Canada-Mexico trade agreement  

Boris Johnson’s cunning plan to join the US-Mexico-Canada free trade area was today ridiculed as a desperate bid to distract from being snubbed by Joe Biden.

The President dashed the PM’s dreams of a quick Transatlantic deal when they met at the White House for the first time last night, telling him vaguely: ‘We’re going to have to work that through.’

Mr Biden, who is proud of his Irish heritage, also infuriated ministers by delivering another stark warning about wrangling with the EU over Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trade rules, saying changes must not hit the peace process.

As Mr Johnson was hit with the bad news, it emerged that ministers are looking at getting a backdoor into American markets via the existing USMCA.  

But trade experts pointed out that the UK already has trade deals with both Canada and Mexico, and adding another layer of complexity could cause problems for limited benefits. The US authorities also seemed bewildered by the idea, highlighting that there is no mechanism for joining the USMCA.

And Labour MP Neil Coyle said: ‘Johnson was ignored by the US in Afghanistan and has failed to even get a date for a future trade deal with America. The Tories’ ‘Global Britain’ seems more easily sidelined than Great Britain ever was.’ 

The USMCA was negotiated to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) after Donald Trump complained that it did not have enough protections for American industries.

As a result there are strict rules of origin requirements, particularly on the automotive industry. Experts said it is mainly regionally focussed and largely ignores areas where the UK has a competitive advantage, such as services.

The US Trade Representative (USTR) said there is not even an accession clause – a mechanism for joining – in the USMCA. ‘We have not received a request to join the USMCA and there is no accession clause in the agreement,’ a spokesman said.

David Henig, a former government trade official, pointed out the USMCA was not ‘in any way tailored to the UK’ and ministers seemed to be engaged in ‘political signalling’. ‘I don’t think in fact the suggestion the UK join USMCA is in any way serious given it was not intended as open to others, and would present more issues than a bilateral negotiation,’ he tweeted. ‘Probably just political signalling to a few different audiences.’

Mr Henig suggested that joining would only add 0.1-0.2 per cent to UK GDP, while leaving the economy exposed to many of the drawbacks of a full-scale deal with the US.

Dmitry Groubinski, a trade consultant and visiting professor at the University of Strathclyde, said the US, Mexico and Canada would be able to ‘name their price’ for the UK to join.

‘It is certainly ambitious,’ he told the Financial Times. ‘And it is also not clear how this would resolve the fundamental challenges to a US-UK free trade deal, which is firstly that the US has no appetite for it, and secondly, there remain significant areas, like agrifood standards, on which the two sides fundamentally disagree.’

Mr Groubinski said it would be theoretically possible for the USMCA to be altered so the UK can join, but it would require 900 amendments from each country. 

Downing Street said brokering a comprehensive deal with the White House remains ‘the priority’ but did not rule out joining other pacts as a backup.

‘Our focus is on the US stand-alone deal and that’s what we’re working towards,’ the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said.

Boris Johnson signalled his determination to bolster the ‘special relationship’ – a term he doesn’t like – as he met Joe Biden in the White House last night

Joe Biden appeared to slam the door shut on any lingering hopes of a Transatlantic trade deal last night, as it emerged ministers are considering an alternative pact involving an existing US-Canada-Mexico agreement

Senior government figures are said to be looking at joining the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement as an apparent back door into American markets that could leave British goods ranked alongside Mexican and Canadian exports

Both Mr Johnson (left) and Mr Biden (right) enthused about the need for more action to tackle climate change, after the US announced a major boost in funding earlier

Environment Secretary George Eustice risked a diplomatic spat today saying Mr Biden was ‘wrong’ about the NI protocol

Joe Biden on Tuesday did not recognize any American reporters for questions during an Oval Office meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his aides cleared out journalists as they tried to query the president.

Biden did attempt to answer one shouted question from a CBS reporter about the crisis on the Southern border but his answer was unclear when White House staff shouted down reporters, covering the president’s attempt to respond as they demanded journalists leave.

‘Violence is not justified,’ Biden appeared to say but the rest of his response was not decipherable. 

White House staff even interrupted Johnson as they pushed to get reporters out of the room, shouting over the British prime minister as he and Biden sat in their chairs, watching the chaotic scene unfold as aides ushered journalists out of the Oval Office.

As reporters were ushered out, CBS White House reporter Ed O’Keefe shouted a question to Biden asked about the situation on the U.S.-Mexico border. The administration is facing backlash and criticism following images of U.S. Border Patrol agents on horseback using whips to round up migrants or prevent them from stepping onto American soil.

But White House aides yelled ‘thank you’ and ‘let’s go’ to the press in the room, herding them out as Biden appeared to try and address the issue. Between the shouting of his aides and the president’s wearing a face mask, it was impossible to make out the majority of what Biden said. 

The president seemed to know what he and the prime minister where in for when he wished Johnson ‘good luck’ after the prime minister said the two leaders would take a few questions.

‘I think we will take a couple of questions, just a couple of people,’ Johnson said.

‘Good luck,’ Biden responded.  

Johnson then took control, calling on three British reporters for questions that he and Biden answered. The president did not call on a single reporter. 

With no American reporter called upon and, as White House staff said it was time to go, the U.S. journalists started shouting questions at Biden and Johnson.  That is when aides shouted them down.

‘I think that’s it,’ Johnson quipped as the aides shouted at reporters and journalists shouted questions.  

After reporters were pulled from the Oval Office, a group of American reporters making up the ‘pool’ – the small group of journalists that follow the president to represent the entire press crops –  went into White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki’s office to give her a formal complaint about the situation.

In a round of interviews this morning, George Eustice acknowledged that a UK-US trade deal was ‘not a priority’ for Mr Biden.

The Environment Secretary told Sky News: ‘We still very much hope to be able to put together an agreement with the United States.

‘We are not putting timescales on it.’

He added: ‘It’s just not a priority for the US administration.’

Mr Eustice also gave an extraordinary rebuke to Mr Biden over his Northern Ireland protocol comments, saying the president is ‘wrong’ to have concerns about the UK position and does not ‘fully appreciate’ the details of the row.

‘He is probably at the moment just reading the headlines, reading what the EU is saying, reading what Ireland might be saying, which is that they would like the Northern Ireland Protocol to work in the way the EU envisage,’ Mr Eustice said.

‘We think he is wrong because the truth is that unless we have a sustainable solution that enables trade to continue between GB and Northern Ireland then we are going to have issues, and that itself would become a challenge to the Belfast Agreement.’

He added: ‘We will obviously explain to the United States effectively it is tantamount to saying that potatoes grown in one part of the United States can’t be sold in another part of the United States.

‘When you explain some of those provisions in detail, it is understood by the US government that that clearly does not make any sense and therefore should be revisited.’

Mr Eustice said it was ‘very complicated’ and ‘I’m not sure he does fully appreciate all of that’.

Mr Johnson tried to launch a charm offensive in the Oval Office, telling Biden that he took an Amtrak train from New York and people ‘love you’ – a reference to the president’s famous fondness for commuting by rail that earned him the nickname ‘Amtrack Joe’. 

The PM had earlier told reporters in Manhattan there were ‘plenty of reasons to be optimistic’ about getting a free trade agreement.

But the extent of the ‘great progress’ to which Johnson referred at the White House appeared only to reach as far as an agreement for British beef imports, with Biden saying that ‘we’re going to be working on lamb, too.’ 

Aside from trade, the pair both enthused about the need for more action to tackle climate change, after the US announced a major boost in funding earlier. 

Mr Biden also moved to reassure the UK that the case of Harry Dunn – who died in a road crash involving US diplomat Anne Sacoolas – is ‘being worked on’ as it was revealed yesterday that his family and Ms Sacoolas’ lawyers had come to a ‘compromise’ in their civil lawsuit.

Trade talks between the two nations appear to be deadlocked, despite early promise and positives steps being taken by both sides.

One senior government source indicated there were a ‘variety of different ways’ the UK could join the US-Canada-Mexico (USMCA) deal.

They added: ‘The question is whether the US administration is ready. The ball is in the US’s court. It takes two to tango.’ 

But amid all the discussions, Mr Biden only appointed his chief agricultural trade negotiator, Elaine Trevino, to post last week – and is yet to name his new ambassador to London.  

Further to that, American policymakers have more aggressively pursued legislation for their domestic economic agenda compared to international trade deals.

One member of US Congress appeared to rubbish claims the UK was potentially in line to join the US-Canada-Mexico trade deal.

Speaking on BBC Newsnight on Tuesday evening, Democrat Congressman Brendan Boyle said: ‘I haven’t heard one word about that [the UK joining the deal].

‘It is just not a subject that ever comes up here. It does sometimes in the context of Northern Ireland. Aside from that though, it’s just not an issue that ever comes up.

‘We have no planned meetings on any sort of prospective US/UK trade deal. 

‘President Obama five years ago famously said that any consideration of a bilateral trade deal would go to the back of the line, or the back of the queue as you would say.’

Complicating matters further, the UK already enjoys existing agreements with Canada and Mexico – meaning adjoining itself to the USMCA would require significant co-operation with the Americans.

Downing Street had been keen to use the imposing backdrop, where so many alliances between British and American leaders have been burnished. 

Mr Johnson said beforehand that it is the ‘job of any Prime Minister of the UK to have a good relationship with the President of the United States’ – although he has also previously made clear he does not like the term ‘special relationship’.   

Mr Johnson updated the president on the ‘developments’ on the Northern Ireland Protocol since their meeting in Cornwall in June. 

Mr Biden presented the Prime Minister with a framed photo of their first meeting in Carbis Bay during the G7 Summit and a White House-branded watch, Downing Street said.

And Mr Johnson gave the president a signed copy of astronaut Tim Peake’s book ‘Hello, Is This Planet Earth?’, with an inscription expressing hopes the book ‘provides a reminder of what we’re fighting to save as our countries tackle climate change together’.

Aides will have been pleased with the mood music leading up to the encounter – only the second face-to-face since they took office, thanks to Covid. 

Mr Johnson hailed Mr Biden’s announcement at the UN general assembly yesterday that the US climate change finance will be doubled to $11.4billion per year, or £8.3billion. The move gives the PM a springboard for the COP26 summit this Autumn. 

No10 was also delighted that the American administration has finally eased the draconian travel restrictions on Britons crossing the Atlantic, in a surprise step yesterday. 

However, Mr Johnson has had to navigate some tricky moments, including having to defend the US decision to abandon Afghanistan to the Taliban – something that caused fury in the UK and friction between the two governments. 

Biden promises to follow up on Harry Dunn’s death as family settle civil court battle with US spy wanted for killing him 

President Biden insists a criminal case over the death of Harry Dunn is ‘being worked on’, after the tragic teenager’s family settled in their civil court battle with the US spy wanted for killing him. 

Sat next to Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the Oval Office, the US president told reporters the case against Anne Sacoolas was progressing. 

‘I was under the impression there had been a civil settlement reached, but I don’t know that, based on what I’ve been told it was not an intentional act.

‘It was someone who’s new… driving down the wrong side of the road, quote unquote. But I will follow up on that.’

Mr Johnson said that Joe Biden has been ‘personally trying to move things along’ in the Anne Sacoolas case.

The Prime Minister said: ‘I know that the president has been personally trying to move things along, and I’m grateful for that.’

It comes after Harry’s parents reached a ‘resolution’ on Tuesday in their US damages claim against his alleged killer. 

Sacoolas and her husband Jonathan, both reported to be former CIA agents, were due to give evidence under oath as part of the civil case.

The claim, being heard in the state of Virginia, had unearthed material surrounding their secretive State Department roles. But yesterday’s agreement, for an undisclosed fee, has prevented further disclosure – fuelling speculation that the US government might have intervened.

Radd Seiger, the Dunn family’s spokesman, said the deal meant their attention would turn to the criminal case in the UK. He called the agreement a ‘real milestone’ but said there was ‘much work left to be done’ to secure justice for Harry.

Sacoolas has been charged with causing the 19-year-old’s death by dangerous driving following the fatal crash outside RAF Croughton in Northamptonshire in August 2019.

Her car was allegedly turning out of the base, where her husband worked as a US intelligence officer, when it struck Harry’s motorcycle.

She was able to leave the UK after the Trump administration underwrote her diplomatic immunity. 

The couple’s status in the UK was the subject of a fierce diplomatic row when Washington refused Britain’s demands to extradite Sacoolas to the UK to face justice.

As part of the civil damages claim, the Virginia court heard the pair left the UK for ‘security reasons’ and that their intelligence roles were a factor in their departure. 

The financial settlement has caused suspicions that the US government may have intervened to prevent the release of further revelations about the couple’s roles.

The PM also tried to nullify another bone of contention by taking a subtle jab at former President Donald Trump in an NBC interview. 

Mr Biden was so enraged by the closeness between the men that he once famously described Mr Johnson as a ‘physical and emotional clone’ of Mr Trump. 

Mr Biden did have some good news on trade as he suggested the ban on British lamb in the US could be lifted. 

But pressed on the Northern Ireland protocol and whether the post-Brexit arrangements might inhibit a trade deal, Mr Biden said he feels ‘very strongly’ that there should be no changes to the ‘Irish accords’ resulting in ‘a closed border’.

Asked about a UK-US trade deal, the US president told reporters in the Oval Office: ‘To do with the UK, that’s continuing to be discussed.

‘But on the (Northern Ireland) protocols I feel very strongly on those. We spent an enormous amount of time and effort, the United States, it was a major bipartisan effort made.

‘And I would not at all like to see, nor I might add would many of my Republican colleagues like to see, a change in the Irish accords, the end result having a closed border in Ireland.’  

Mr Johnson said ‘that’s absolutely right’, adding: ‘On that point, Joe, we’re completely at one, nobody wants to see anything that interrupts or unbalances the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.’

Brexiteers have been increasingly frustrated at the US administration’s refusal to recognise that the protocol itself poses a risk to the peace process.

The leaders said they would be discussing continuing co-operation on Afghanistan and in the Pacific during their meeting.

Mr Biden said the UN General Assembly had made clear that ‘climate must be the core focus’, with Mr Johnson set to make a speech about the need for global action at the UN on Wednesday.

Mr Johnson thanked the president for his speech at the UN which he said ‘made the difference on supporting the world to adapt to climate change’.

Mr Biden said he was going to be in Glasgow ‘with bells on’ to attend the Cop26 climate summit.

The US president said: ‘As we look ahead to the UK hosting Cop26, which I’m really anxious to attend in Glasgow in November.

‘We’re going to be there with bells on, as they say.’

They also briefly discussed the Aukus defence deal, with Mr Johnson adding that their relationship with Australia ‘has great potential to benefit the whole of the world’.

As so often with prime ministerial trips abroad, Mr Johnson has ended up having to field a crisis at home, with soaring gas prices sending energy firms bust and fears the knock-on effect on CO2 supplies could cause food shortages. 

Holding talks with Vice President Kamala Harris at her offices in the Eisenhower building earlier, Mr Johnson gushed that the two government were ‘cooperating at a higher and more intense level than at anytime I can remember’. 

Mr Johnson said: ‘Madame Vice President it’s a great honor and privilege for me to be here to meet you for the first time. 

‘I’ve heard a lot about you but it’s fantastic to be here and I want to thank the US government, your government, for the many ways in which we are cooperating now I think at a higher and more intense level than at anytime I can remember. 

‘I want to signal out the amazing work, the brave work, of the US military is helping the Kabul airlift. We could always done that without US leadership and I’m grateful for that.’

He also expressed gratitude for the new travel rules announced yesterday. ‘That’s great, that’s an improvement on the previous arrangements and thank you for your hard work on that.’

On trade, the PM said he was glad ‘your curious ban’ on British beef had been removed. ‘That’s a wonderful thing,’ he added.

And he said it had been a ‘really good day for the world’ with Mr Biden helping progress on climate change. 

‘I just want to say, Madame Vice President, Kamala, on climate change I think that today was a really good day for the world,’ he said.

‘And I thank the US government and President Biden for the steps you’ve taken to reassure the world that America is committed to helping to tackle climate change. And the last point we certainly shoulder to shoulder.’

Ms Harris said it was an ‘honour’ to welcome Mr Johnson to the White House.

‘As you will discuss with the president, the relationship between our two countries is a long and enduring one, one that we value based on shared priorities and based on as we know, what is increasingly evident about partnerships and alliances around the world,’ she said.

‘We are indeed interconnected and interdependent in so many ways and in many ways, more than before.’

Mr Johnson held discussions with Vice President Kamala Harris ahead of his talks with president Joe Biden last night

Mr Johnson and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss chose to travel by train from New York to Washington DC. Both the PM and Mr Biden are known as train geeks

She added: ‘And of course we must work and continue to work together to uphold and protect democratic principles and values around the globe. And we look forward to that continuing relationship, and our relationship as partners.’ 

Earlier, Mr Johnson said he has ‘plenty of reason to be optimistic’ about getting the free trade agreement (FTA) touted by Leave supporters as a major prize of departing the European Union but noted Americans ‘do negotiate very hard’.

His admission came after suggesting trade negotiations are not a priority for the US president, who he accepted has ‘a lot of fish to fry’.

Mr Johnson spoke to broadcasters on the terrace of a skyscraper in New York, where he has been attending a UN summit, before getting the train to Washington DC for his first visit to the White House since Mr Biden succeeded Donald Trump.

The Vote Leave figurehead downplayed the prospects of getting a trade deal by the next election, raising the possibility that he could leave Downing Street without achieving a key ambition for the post-Brexit era.

Asked if he would get the deal by 2024, the Prime Minister told Sky News: ‘We will keep going with free trade deals around the world including in the United States.

‘I have plenty of reason to be optimistic about that. But the Americans do negotiate very hard.’

New Foreign Secretary Liz Truss raised the stalled negotiations with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken when they met in New York during the UN General Assembly on Monday.

She is understood to be considering the possibility of the UK joining the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

A diplomatic source said: ‘There are a variety of different ways to do this. The question is whether the US administration is ready.

‘The ball is in the US’s court. It takes two to tango.’

After finishing her duties at the UN, Ms Truss will travel to Mexico City to open a new British embassy. 

Mr Johnson heads to the White House having conceded Britain and the US could have possibly taken a different course over the withdrawal of troops of Afghanistan, with the president having rejected his calls to extend the deadline.

‘America has been there for 20 years and it’s a respectable argument to say that enough is enough. Look, I mean, could we have done it a bit differently? Maybe we could,’ the Prime Minister told American broadcaster NBC.

A major diplomatic row has also broken out over a new military pact between the UK, US and Australia because it scuppered a multibillion-dollar contract for France to provide submarines to Australia.

France took the extraordinary step of recalling its ambassadors to Washington and Canberra, but declined to do the same from London, accusing the UK of being America’s lapdog.

After meeting Mr Biden and Ms Harris in the White House, Mr Johnson enjoyed dinner with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Washington – where the pair reportedly discussed travel restrictions on the upcoming Ashes cricket series. 

In an interview with NBC, Mr Johnson admitted the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan last month which allowed a swift extremist takeover could ‘maybe’ have been handled better.

But he suggested it was time for the Afghan people to run their own country instead of relying on the West.

Asked about his past closeness with Mr Trump, Mr Johnson said: ‘What I will say about Joe Biden, dealing with the new American president, yes it is a breath of fresh air in the sense that there are some things on which we can really, really work together.’

He singled out Mr Biden’s stance on climate change, commending the president for doing a ‘great’ job.

‘He’s great on that,’ Mr Johnson said. ‘He wants to cut CO2, he wants to net zero by 2050, and he shares with me a basic view that you can do this without penalising the economy.’   

Mr Johnson (left) was put on the back foot in his relations with Mr Biden after building a notable warm alliance with former president Donald Trump (pictured together in New York in 2019) 

President Biden’s administration has faced widespread criticism for its rapid pull-out from Afghanistan, which left the country in the hands of one of a brutal theocratic regime (Kandahar pictured today)

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