Boost for Brexiteers as Donald Trump ready to start trade talks ‘as soon as’ UK leaves EU
The United States is ready to start talks on a trade deal “as soon as” Britain leaves the EU, Donald Trump's trade envoy has declared.
Brexiteers have long seen a major free trade deal with the US as a key prize of leaving the EU.
In a boost for eurosceptics, the US President has notified Congress that he intends to begin negotiations on an "ambitious" tie-up immediately after Britain quits the bloc.
The confirmation came in a letter to Republican senators from US trade representative Robert Lighthizer, who said: "We intend to initiate negotiations with the United Kingdom as soon as it is ready after it exits from the European Union on March 29, 2019."
The announcement follows months of preliminary talks between the US and Britain's International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, which Mr Lighthizer said had involved "laying the groundwork" for a free trade deal..
He added: "The United States and the United Kingdom are the first and fifth largest economies in the world, respectively, and maintain a broad and deep trade and investment relationship.
"An ambitious trade agreement between our two countries could further expand this relationship by removing existing goods and services tariff and non-tariff barriers and by developing cutting edge obligations for emerging sectors where US and UK innovators and entrepreneurs are most competitive."
The move was welcomed by the UK government, with a spokesperson saying talks to "boost trade and investment ties" had already been "positive".
They added: "The Government is taking steps to ensure we are ready to begin negotiations including through consulting the British public on their views on what a Free Trade Agreement should look like."
The move is likely to pile further pressure on Theresa May to shelve her Chequers Brexit plan, which Eurosceptics fear will hobble the UK's ability to strike independent trade deals.
Earlier this year, President Trump was forced to row back on a claim that the Prime Minister's plan would "kill" hopes of a deal between the two countries.
Critics of Brexit meanwhile pounced on the letter, warning that any tie-up between the UK and the US could lead to a shredding of existing environmental and consumer protections.
Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake, speaking for the Best for Britain campaign, said: "With this letter the American government have fired the starting gun on their chlorine chicken trade deal.
"British supermarkets could be flooded with chlorine-washed chicken, hormone-treated beef and pork laced with drugs.
"This trade deal could be a disaster for the UK and shred our animal welfare and consumer protections."