BIARRITZ (France) • British Prime Minister Boris Johnson yesterday said he and US President Donald Trump were "gung-ho" about a post-Brexit trade deal, but cautioned that the United States would be a tough negotiator and that he would not rush talks.
Mr Trump promised a big trade deal for Britain after it leaves the European Union, which he said had been a drag on Britain's ability to cut a good deal.
Facing a delicate task of assuaging European allies while not angering Mr Trump at the Group of Seven (G-7) summit in France, Mr Johnson said there were huge opportunities for British businesses in the US market, but hinted at differences between the two sides on the scope of a deal.
Moreover, he added, Washington would have to relax some "protectionist" policies. "They want to do it within a year, I'd love to do it within a year, but that's a very fast timetable," he told Sky News.
Earlier, before the two leaders began a trade-focused bilateral meeting, Mr Trump said he was looking forward to discussing big numbers with Mr Johnson.
"We're going to do a very big trade deal - bigger than we've ever had with the UK," Mr Trump said. "At some point, they won't have the obstacle of - they won't have the anchor around their ankle, because that's what they had."
Mr Johnson and Mr Trump were on obviously friendly terms as they sat down for a working breakfast in the southern French resort of Biarritz. "He's going to be a fantastic prime minister," Mr Trump said in their first face-to-face meeting since Mr Johnson took office last month. Asked what his advice was for Brexit, Mr Trump replied: "He needs no advice. He's the right man for the job."
With less than three months until an Oct 31 deadline, it is still unclear how, when or even whether Britain will leave the EU. The uncertainty around Brexit has left allies and investors aghast and roiled markets.
Britain has yet to agree on any kind of exit deal to smooth the divorce between the world's fifth-largest economy and its biggest trading partner, raising fears of shortages and widespread disruption.
However, Mr Johnson said meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron last week had helped his case for a better exit deal. "I think it's going to be touch and go but the important thing is to get ready to come out without a deal," he told BBC.
Opponents fear Brexit will make Britain poorer and divide the West as it grapples with both Mr Trump's unconventional presidency and growing assertiveness from Russia and China.
Supporters acknowledge the divorce might bring short-term instability, but say in the longer term it will allow the United Kingdom to thrive if cut free from what they cast as a doomed attempt to forge European unity.
Mr Johnson also met European Council head Donald Tusk, who on Saturday said Mr Johnson would go down as "Mr No-Deal" if he took Britain out of the EU without a withdrawal agreement.
Sky News reported that Mr Johnson would tell Mr Tusk Britain will pay only £9 billion (S$15.3 billion) instead of the £39 billion liability agreed by former prime minister Theresa May under a no-deal Brexit.
Asked about the report, Mr Johnson said: "If we come out without an agreement, it is certainly true that the £39 billion is no longer, strictly speaking, owed."
On his arrival on Saturday, Mr Johnson said of the escalating US-China trade war that he was "very worried" about the growth of protectionism. Sitting opposite Mr Trump yesterday, Mr Johnson praised the performance of the US economy before adding: "But just to register a faint, sheep-like note of our view on the trade war - we are in favour of trade peace on the whole."
London's preference is for a comprehensive free trade deal with the US post-Brexit, British government officials say, while some US officials, including Mr Trump's National Security Adviser John Bolton, have talked of a sector-by-sector approach.