US President Joe Biden has played down prospects of striking a post-Brexit trade deal with the UK during a meeting with Boris Johnson.
Britain is understood to be considering joining an existing trade pact with the US, Mexico and Canada instead, as hopes fade for a free trade deal with Mr Biden’s White House.
Mr Biden did not counter the assertion from his predecessor Barack Obama’s that Britain would be at the “back of the queue” for a post-Brexit free trade agreement.
Trade deal unlikey before next general election
Downing Street said striking a comprehensive deal with the US remains “the priority”, but did not rule out joining a pact with the US, Mexico and Canada to boost trans-Atlantic trade as a backup.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the focus remains “on the US stand-alone deal and that’s what we’re working towards”.
Mr Johnson was unable to commit to securing the deal, which was touted as a prize of Brexit by Leave supporters during the EU referendum, before the next general election, saying the President has “a lot of fish to fry”.
Asked if a deal would be struck by 2024, the PM 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.”
Concerns over Northern Ireland Protocol
Mr Johnson updated the president on the “developments” on the Northern Ireland Protocol since their meeting in Cornwall in June.
The UK’s exit from the EU presents a quandary to the Prime Minister’s relationship with Mr Biden who is vocally proud of his Irish heritage.
The US President has said he feels “very strongly” about the issues surrounding the peace process and warned that there will be no trade deal if peace in Northern Ireland is jeopardised by the EU departure.
Vocally proud of his Irish heritage, Mr Biden, as problems with the Northern Ireland Protocol persisted.
He said: “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.”
In one possible boost to trans-Atlantic trade, Mr Biden said they are “going to be working on lamb” – with imports currently banned from Britain.
The Prime Minister first held talks with vice president Kamala Harris in her office on Tuesday (21 September) afternoon, after arriving in Washington DC by train from New York where he had attended a UN summit.
Mr Johnson welcomed the “great improvement” as the US announced the lifting of the blanket ban on travel from the UK, and described Mr Biden’s climate funding commitment as a “great day for the world”.
He also praised the bravery of US troops in the Afghanistan evacuations and said “on trade we are seeing real progress”, particularly over the “curious ban” on British beef.
After meeting Mr Biden and vice president Kamala Harris in the White House, Mr Johnson will have dinner with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Washington.
This article originally appeared on our sister site, NationalWorld.