Trump Promised the U.K. a Lucrative U.S. Trade Deal. But Britons Don't Believe Him and Many Want to Prioritize the E.U.

A majority of Britons doubt the Trump administration will treat the U.K. fairly in ongoing trade talks, and more believe the European Union (E.U.) will be a better post-Brexit trading partner than the U.S., according to a poll for Newsweek.

Formal trade talks between U.K. Trade Secretary Liz Truss and the U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer opened via video call last week.

President Donald Trump has promised the U.K. a "far bigger and more lucrative" trade deal than any the E.U. has to offer its former member state. Now, as the coronavirus pandemic sinks the economy, the stakes are higher for the U.K. to secure a deal.

Truss argued both countries had a vested interest in a good deal because of the importance of transatlantic trade helping both economies bounce back from the challenges of coronavirus.

However, an online poll of 1,500 adults aged over 18 who live across the U.K. conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies for Newsweek shows that the majority Britons have doubts about U.S. intentions in the talks.

UK PM Boris Johnson, Donald Trump
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson (R) welcomes President Donald Trump (L) to the NATO summit anortheast of London on December 4, 2019. Britain is hoping for a good post-Brexit trade deal with the U.S. PETER NICHOLLS/Getty Images

More than half (53 percent) said they did not think the Trump administration would treat the U.K. "fairly and respectfully" in trade negotiations. Just over a quarter (27 percent) believed it would.

Party affiliation was a factor in replies. Those who voted for left-wing Labour in the last U.K. general election were far more likely to doubt that the U.K would be treated fairly (69 percent) than those who voted for the right-wing Conservatives (39 percent).

A new trading relationship with the U.S. unfettered by Brussels was one of the rallying calls of the successful Brexit campaign.

Trump said leaving the E.U. meant that the U.K and the U.S. "will now be free to strike a massive new trade deal," which in his view "has the potential to be far bigger and more lucrative than any deal that could be made with the E.U."

But in the Redfield poll, almost twice as many Britons said the U.K. should devote more time seeking the best trade deal with the E.U. (50 percent) than the U.S. (26 percent)

When asked who they thought would be the U.K's biggest trading partner post-Brexit, slightly more people said the E.U. (37 percent) than the U.S. (34 percent).

Moreover, 40 percent thought the E.U. would be a more profitable partner compared with only 31 percent who said the U.S.

EU and UK flags
An EU Flag fis pictured next to a Union Flag in Parliament Squaren front of the Houses of Parliament in London on January 30, 2020. A survey for Newsweek suggests most Britons see a good trade deal with Brussels as more likely than one with the U.S. TOLGA AKMEN/Getty Images

Whoever is U.S. president also impacts Britons' thoughts about the prospect of a decent trade deal. Thirty-four percent thought the U.K. would get a worse deal under Trump than if the likely Democratic nominee Joe Biden won the election in November.

Just 18 percent thought Britain would get a better deal with Trump than Biden and 43 percent thought it would be the same regardless of who is in the White House.

More than half of respondents—54 percent—said it would be unrealistic to expect a trade deal by the end of the year, despite hopes on the British side that an agreement will come before the end of 2020. The Redfield poll has a 2.53 percent margin of error.

The U.K. is negotiating several trade deals. Last week, the United States Chamber of Commerce raised concerns about the uncertainty around the future U.K.-E.U. trading relationship.

The business group noted that American firms have invested more than $750 billion in the U.K. with the principal aim of accessing the larger E.U. single market, which, post-Brexit, they can no longer do as before.

"With that in mind, it is vital that the U.K. secure a favorable trade agreement with the E.U. as quickly as possible," the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said in a statement.

Anand Menon, director of the London-based group UK in a Changing Europe, told Newsweek: "A bad deal with the E.U. will harm the U.K. economy far more than a decent trade deal with the U.S. will benefit it."

U.S trade representative Robert Lighthizer
US trade representative Robert Lighthizer is pictured on March 10, 2018 at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels. STEPHANIE LECOCQ/Getty Images

It is not clear what the U.S. is looking for in a deal with the U.K. and the coronavirus has, temporarily at least, introduced considerable logistical barriers to any free trade agreement.

"The U.S. is already quite protectionist under Trump and sounds more so because of COVID, so whether they are in a free trading sort of mood remains to be seen," Menon said.

"Global trade has taken a massive hit and for trade with places far away, there aren't any passenger planes and we don't know when there will be. There are limits to what you can achieve with the U.S. anyway, for the simple reason that the U.S. is quite far away.

"There are all sorts of other doubts related to the Brexit process and the COVID pandemic that makes it a very uncertain time to be pinning hopes on trade deals."

Most experts agree that a U.K. deal with the U.S., which would require congressional approval, is unlikely before the end of the year. But prioritizing a deal with the E.U. poses its own problems.

"Timing is not on either side, the chances of getting a deal before the end of the year seem remote for logistical reasons on both sides, and that is before we have considered the economic upheaval going on," Victoria Hewson, head of regulatory affairs at the London-based think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs, told Newsweek.

"Trump is 'America First', that hasn't changed, it is just that 'America First' is not necessarily at odds with things that are beneficial to Britain as well. Free trade is not a zero-sum game, liberalizing trade and our inputs from America is actually good for British consumers.

"In some ways, the economic headwinds are also a good reason to push hard to get a deal that will give an economic boost both to the U.S. and the U.K.

"Although a lot of people are talking about onshoring and retrenching and reverse globalization, that would be in many ways the worst thing to happen as we try to return to economic growth."

The so-called "special relationship" should create a more conducive environment for talks than the tensions between the U.S. and China as they engaged in a bitter trade war before agreeing the hard-fought "Phase One" deal in January.

On Monday, Trump ruled out renegotiating the recent deal with China and urged Beijing to uphold its side of the bargain as fresh tensions arise between the world's two largest economies over the coronavirus pandemic.

The president was asked about reports in the state-run China Daily newspaper that Beijing was looking to invalidate the agreement and negotiate a new one. But Trump dismissed it instantly, saying "I'm not interested," according to Reuters.

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