LONDON — President-elect Donald Trump has given Brexiteers hope that there will be a bilateral trade deal in the offing as British Prime Minister Theresa May prepares to give a speech expected to signal that Britain is ready to make a clean break with the European Union.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Times of London, Trump praised Britain’s decision to leave the European Union and said that the United States would “very quickly” draw up a trade deal with the United Kingdom once it leaves the bloc.
“I’m a big fan of the U.K., we’re going to work very hard to get it done quickly and done properly,” Trump said in an interview with Michael Gove, a Conservative politician and prominent Brexiteer. Gove is also a columnist for the newspaper.
A speedy U.S.-U.K. trade deal, Trump said, would be good for the United States and the United Kingdom, and he added that he plans to meet with May shortly after he takes office Friday.
“I will be meeting with [Theresa May] — in fact, if you want, you can see the letter, wherever the letter is, she just sent it. She’s requesting a meeting and we’ll have a meeting right after I get into the White House and . . . we’re gonna get something done very quickly,” he said in the interview, conducted at Trump Tower in New York.
His comments were welcomed by Brexit advocates, who stress that the U.K. has a bright future ahead trading more with countries outside the E.U. They were also in sharp contrast to those of President Obama, who said last year that Britain would be at the “back of the queue” when it came to a post-Brexit trade deal.
Britain cannot sign a formal trade deal with the United States while it negotiates to leave the E.U., a process expected to last two years. And trade deals themselves can be extremely complicated and take several years to finalize.
The prime minister’s spokeswoman told reporters that the British government welcomed Trump’s “enthusiasm and the energy” for a trade deal, but stressed that Britain would not enter into free-trade agreements while it remains a member of the European Union. However, Britain’s E.U. membership does not rule out early “scoping discussions,” she said.
Gove told the BBC on Monday that Trump seemed “emotionally and financially invested” in Britain making a success of Brexit and that he wanted to have a deal “signature-ready at the earliest possible opportunity.”
Gove also said that Trump’s comments would serve as a boost for May as she enters into negotiations with the European Union, which will want to strike a deal that will deter others from leaving the bloc.
“This is another card in the prime minister’s hand, another arrow in her quiver because the European Union until now has been assumed to have a better hand to play. But the prime minister we now see has actually cards in her hand,” Gove said.
Boris Johnson, Britain’s colorful foreign secretary and another prominent Brexiteer, hailed Trump’s comments as “very good news.”
Trump’s comments come on the eve of a highly anticipated speech by May in which she is expected to outline some of her Brexit plans. Until now, she has said relatively little about Britain’s withdrawal from the bloc, aside from her catchphrase “Brexit means Brexit,” and that she wants to kick off the two-year divorce talks by the end of March.
Brexit is such a divisive issue here that regardless of what she says, she is probably going to upset some people.
“May’s position is extremely difficult because she is going to upset a substantial number of people once she starts revealing her hand,” said Tony Travers, a political expert at the London School of Economics.
Over the weekend, several British newspapers speculated that May will signal this week that Britain will opt for a “hard” or “clean” Brexit, meaning that it’s ready to walk away from the E.U. single market and customs union. This is seen as the price Britain will have to pay to regain control over E.U. migration and freedom from E.U. law.
Following these reports, the British pound plummeted to its lowest level against the dollar in three months before recovering slightly.
In his interview, Trump said that Britain’s weak pound was “great for business.”
“The fact that your pound sterling has gone down? Great. Because business is unbelievable in a lot of parts of the U.K., as you know. I think Brexit is going to end up being a great thing,” he said.