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Tuesday 27 November 2018

Yet again, Donald Trump has succeeded where Barack Obama failed. Last night the US President slammed Theresa May’s abomination as, “a great deal for the EU”. It is.

“I think we have to take a look at seriously whether or not the UK is allowed to trade,” added Trump.

“Because you know right now if you look at the deal they may not be able to trade with us and that wouldn’t be a good thing.

“I don’t think they meant that. I don’t think that the Prime Minister meant that and hopefully she’ll be able to do something about that.

“But right now, as the deal stands, she may not, they may not be able to trade with the US and I don’t think they want that at all. That would be a very big negative for the deal.”

This is what marks the Donald a cut above, his comments are sincere. By contrast, in the run up to the EU referendum his predecessor flew into London to warn voters Britain would be banished to the “back of the queue” in the event we voted to leave and sought a trade deal with the United States.

Obama’s choice of vocabulary provoked speculation he was acting as a spokesperson for Number 10 – Americans say “line” rather than “queue”. The suspicions were confirmed a few months ago when a former aide to President Obama admitted he was speaking according to David Cameron’s instructions.

Trump is his own man, there is no ambiguity to his words and where they came from. There couldn’t be, the deal as it stands, whether we’re talking about the terms of withdrawal or the blueprint for a future deal, leaves little scope for repatriated sovereignty, particularly regarding trade.

Paragraph 23 of the political declaration sets out the most explicit ambitions towards the future “economic partnership”, entailing, “ambitious customs arrangements that, in line with the Parties’ objectives and principles above, build and improve on the single customs territory provided for in the Withdrawal Agreement which obviates the need for checks on rules of origin.”

Obviating “checks and rules of origins” automatically banishes the prospect of trade deals with the third parties independently negotiated by the United Kingdom.

Notice how the media this morning is not howling at the Donald. They normally rejoice in questioning his judgement and comprehension of international affairs – both highly subjective – May’s deal is no such thing. It is what it is and it is bad.

Marched onto the Today programme this morning to explain away the broadside from Britain’s closest ally, de facto deputy prime minister David Lidington was truthful in saying, “it’s always going to be challenging to do a deal with the United States,” a point he tried to couch in the complexities of international trade negotiations, adding:

“The US is a tough trade negotiator. President Trump has always said he puts America first. I expect a British prime minister to put British interests first but it will be a tough negotiation.”

He’s not wrong about Trump, nevertheless, in the context of the US President’s shot of honesty Lidington was distorting the issue at hand while unhelpfully giving ammunition to Remainers who claim tiny Britain doesn’t have the clout to negotiate trade deals, even though it’s the world’s fifth biggest importer and is historically open to trade, unlike the EU.

Also appearing on Today this morning was former defence secretary Michael Fallon who brought up the number of MPs saying they will vote against the deal nearer to the hundred mark.

“If we postpone the actual leaving date for two or three months, that is in the interest of the country. We need a better deal, and I think we should send our negotiators back until we get one,” he told listeners.

“Nobody can doubt that the Prime Minister has tried her very best, are we not nonetheless being asked to take a huge gamble here?”

“Paying, leaving, surrendering our vote and our veto without any firm commitment to frictionless trade or the absolute right to dismantle external tariffs?”

On Trump, Fallon was spot on: “It’s no use us brushing off” his comments. “He is the President of the United States.”

“If he says it is going to be difficult, then it looks like it is going to be difficult.”

Honesty has been rare feature of British politics. Perhaps the only virtue of May’s deal is its potent toxicity forces some truth out of our politicians.