Good morning. Today the UK starts trade talks with the EU, and the negotiations will take place with Boris Johnson’s government saying it is willing to abandon the process, and revert to planning for a WTO “no deal” Brexit, if it is not making enough progress by June. The government will be negotiating a trade deal with the US at the same time, and this morning, ahead of the publication of its negotiating objectives, Liz Truss, the international trade secretary, said the UK would be willing to walk away from these talks too if Washington is not prepared to accept UK red lines on food safety standards. In an interview with the BBC she said:
I can absolutely guarantee that in a trade deal with the US we will not diminish our food safety standards, and we will also not put the NHS on the table, or the price the NHS pays for drugs on the table. Those are two very clear red lines in our trade deal.
But I would also point out that there are huge potential benefits for all parts of Britain from a trade deal with the US. Our economic study shows a potential £15bn benefit for trade … and every single part of the country stands to benefit, with particularly the Midlands, the north east and Scotland likely to benefit the most.
So there are big opportunities there.
But if we don’t get the deal we want, we will be prepared to walk away, and that includes the red lines of food standards and the national health service.
Truss’s stance is not particularly surprising. The red lines that she set out are ones that the government has maintained for some time (and quite what ‘maintaining food safety standards’ means remains, of course, to be seen).
What is perhaps more significant is how the UK’s assessment of how much might be gained from a trade deal is at odds with President Trump’s. In September last year, at a meeting with Johnson in New York, Trump said: “We can quadruple out trade with the UK [by negotiating a trade deal].” And a month later he told LBC, in his interview with Nigel Farage, that with a trade deal “we can do many times of numbers that we’re doing right now”.
But the Department for International Trade is now saying that it estimates that a trade deal will “increase transatlantic trade flows by £15.3bn”. That is not insignificant, but the department’s own figures (pdf) put the value of total trade with the US at £200bn. That means a trade deal would increase the value of UK-US trade not by 400%, as Trump claimed, but by 7.5%.
And, as the BBC’s Faisal Islam points out, the impact on UK GDP would be worth about 0.2%.
Here is the agenda for the day.
10am: Liz Truss, the international trade secretary, publishes the government’s negotiating mandate for trade talks with the US.
10.30am: Boris Johnson chairs a meeting of the government’s Cobra emergency committee to consider the next steps needed to tackle the coronavirus crisis.
12.15pm: Downing Street lobby briefing.
Afternoon: British officials start trade talks with their EU counterparts in Brussels.
3.30pm: Urgent questions and ministerial statements in the Commons. We will find out later if any have been scheduled, but it is possible that coronavirus or the departure of the Home Office permanent secretary Sir Philip Rutnam could come up.
As usual, I will be covering breaking political news as it happens, as well as bringing you the best reaction, comment and analysis from the web. I plan to post a summary when I wrap up.
You can read all the latest Guardian politics articles here. Here is the Politico Europe roundup of this morning’s political news. And here is the PoliticsHome list of today’s top 10 must-reads.
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