America is raring to do trade deals with Britain post-Brexit
‘You’ve got so much capability here. It will be nice to see you go at full tilt,’ says US Ambassador
IN THE new US Embassy in London beneath a portrait of Sir Winston Churchill at his pugnacious best, US Ambassador Robert “Woody” Johnson is impatient for the UK to get on with Brexit.
“As an American you want to get on with it and make a deal quickly so business people can organise around this,” he says. “We would encourage movement. The President thinks it’s time to go.”
Ambassador Johnson emphasises that President Trump has “strong feelings towards this country” and wants to see a bilateral agreement settled soon after we leave the EU. It’s good news for the UK because, as Trump ramps up a trade war with the EU over unfair tariffs, we would no longer be part of that bloc.
The Ambassador confirms that “zero tariffs” could be a great starting point for a postBrexit UK/US trade deal. “I think it would be bold and why not start off with that premise,” he says. He knows President Trump wants to see it signed off quickly when we leave the EU next year. “The President will put his full energy behind a quick deal.”
As British politicians wrangle with Brussels over the terms of our exit from the EU the enthusiasm of America’s leadership is very welcome.
The US Ambassador has travelled all over the UK recently and knows “it’s not all about London”. He sees similarities between Brexit and Independence Day for the US.
“The sky’s the limit. As an independent nation you will be agile, nimble, attract capital. You’ve got so much capability here. It will be nice to see you go at full tilt.”
THE Ambassador is scathing about the EU’s threat to cut the UK out of important mutual security projects. “It doesn’t make sense,” he says. “It’s illogical, particularly over something like terrorism. You have got to share.”
He’s baffled at why Brussels should be giving us such a hard time over Brexit. “I don’t know what their motivation is,” he says. “They’ve got their hands full at the moment. There’s a lot of things going on in Europe. Southern Europe. Central Europe.”
Donald Trump is half British through his Scottish mother and the Ambassador is certain his transatlantic roots give him a special connection to the UK.
“It’s extremely important,” he says. “All the evidence points to that. When he carried Winston Churchill’s bust into the Oval Office on his way in as President. He kept the Resolute desk and he can have any desk he wants.”
The desk in the Oval Office was a gift to the US from Queen Victoria, made from English oak from the wrecked British ship HMS Resolute.
“His first official visitor was the Prime Minister. All those things portend to a strong feeling towards this country.”
Robert Wood “Woody” Johnson, 71, is the great-grandson of the co-founder of Johnson & Johnson, the pharmaceutical business, and owns the New York Jets American football team. A billionaire in his own right, he has been a key fundraiser for Republican presidential hopefuls. In one night in 2008 he raised $7m for John McCain and he entered 2016 heading Jeb Bush’s finance team. But then Trump
took to the stage in a series of devastating debates with his rivals.
“It was something I’d really never seen happen before,” he recalls. “Donald Trump’s ability to connect with people captured everyone’s imagination including mine. It was easy for me to make that decision. The people were speaking and you have to have your antennae out for what’s going on. I could tell this was a different era.”
Jeb Bush dropped out of the contest allowing Johnson to support his long-term friend. “I have known him for many years and the Donald Trump I know has really not changed. He’s courageous. He’s brave. The two things he is working on now are just creating a feeling of security and a feeling of prosperity. That the American Dream is alive and the American people can go and create the life they want.”
Ambassador Johnson likes the fact that President Trump is a disruptor and does not conduct diplomacy in the usual manner.
“There is a time when the world is ready for a different approach,” he says. “For a person that is not a career politician to take a look at some of these intractable problems in a new and different way. It’s already paying off in the US and there is every reason to believe it will pay off worldwide as well.”
It appears to have worked with North Korea and it may help in the Middle East. Trump has managed to get the Saudis and the Israelis on the same side against Iran and that could create a momentum to resolve the Palestinian issue.
“Both sides have to leave the room feeling they’ve benefited. He knows that. The art of the deal,” says the Ambassador, referring to the best-selling book that Trump wrote about his real-estate deals.
Mr Trump’s recent friendly attitude to Russia, saying they should be back in the G8, plus meeting Vladimir Putin in Helsinki after his UK visit, suggests greater confidence that the FBI’s investigation of Russian collusion in the election will come to nothing.
“It’s been going on and on,” sighs Johnson. “He has made his point of view very, very clear. His perception of problems is what Donald Trump has always been good at… I think the world and its antagonists should look at where this thing is going and look further down the road.
“The President is doing something differently and trying new tactics. If some of these new approaches work everybody will be happy about that.”
Post-Brexit, US and UK defence ties could be even closer. “We’re pretty close now,” says the Ambassador. “We can always improve. The capabilities of this country are going to have to be looked at on a national scale in terms of where you want to be as global Britain.”
MR TRUMP will have a strong message for leading countries in the EU when he addresses a Nato meeting before coming to the UK next week. He has repeatedly declared they need to spend more on their own defence. “He doesn’t want to do it alone,” insists the Ambassador. “He wants everybody to have a [military] capability. Wealthy Germany has consistently failed to meet Nato defence spending requirements.”
When President Trump flies to the UK next week, he will visit the Ambassador’s residence at Winfield House in London. Johnson is a little nervous but he has already made the Stars and Stripes flapping on a flagpole outside the main entrance of the house “much bigger”.
Winfield House has been the home of US ambassadors since the 1950s but every resident likes to leave a mark. Johnson’s plan for the second largest private garden in London after Buckingham Palace reveals his love of Britain’s history.
On the terrace leading down to the garden there are currently two stone eagles. “We’ve got the concept there of the American eagles being in the front line of defence,” he says. “But backing them up will be two stone British lions and they’re ready to attack.
“It will show the strength of the special relationship we have. We’ve got to remember that Britain is a valued partner the likes of which we don’t have anywhere else.”
He certainly doesn’t think our best times are behind us but, thanks to Brexit, lie ahead. “I’m into team building and I know when something is good,” he says. “You’ve got something really special here. The language, the culture, history, legal system, the institutions that are the envy of the world. When you stand up on your own it will be something to watch.”