The UK is in need of leadership, US Ambassador to London Woody Johnson said, as he also cast doubt on the chances of a bilateral trade deal if Prime Minister Theresa May manages to push her Brexit agreement through Parliament.
“I’m feeling the country is in need of leadership,” Johnson said on Monday in a BBC Radio interview. “You can see the frustration in the members of Parliament in trying to navigate what the people wanted when they voted in the referendum.”
Johnson’s remarks are the latest to beset an uneasy relationship between the administration of President Donald Trump and May’s government. While the UK likes to tout its “special relationship” with the US, interactions between the two leaders have been fraught. Trump said a month ago that under the terms of the Brexit deal that May negotiated with the EU, Britain “may not be able to trade with the US” Johnson on Monday reiterated that point.
Trump is “looking forward to and hoping that the environment will lead to the ability of the US to do a quick, very massive bilateral trade deal that could be the precursor of future trade deals with other countries around the world for Great Britain, that will really take you way, way into an exciting future,” Johnson said.
“It doesn’t look like it would be possible” under the terms of the Brexit deal on the table, he said.
May’s spokesperson, Alison Donnelly, pushed back, saying work is underway to discuss future UK-US trade ties, with a joint working group meeting five times already.
"Both ourselves and the United States have said we want an ambitious trade agreement and we stand ready to do that as a priority" after Brexit, Donnelly told reporters in London.
For now, the question is moot: May this month pulled a vote in Parliament on her Brexit deal because the strength of opposition to it among lawmakers meant she couldn’t get it through. She has pledged to hold the vote in the third week of January, but has yet to announce any concessions from the EU that might win over recalcitrant lawmakers in her Conservative Party and among her allies, Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party.
Johnson also took a swipe at the press, saying that reporting around Brexit is backward-looking and presents a “static” view of the future.
“If you look back and you just try to project the past into the present and into the future, it’s going to be bleak,” Johnson said. “But you’re leaving out the great thing that Britain has to offer and that is all of the people and all of their efforts and their ability to solve problems. And if you factor that in, I think that the future is extremely positive, extremely bright.”