Trump’s talk of a trade deal with the UK shows he has no idea how Brexit works

Nigel Farage
Donald Trump and Nigel Farage. Nigel Farage/Twitter

More than a year after the United Kingdom shocked the world by asking for a divorce from continental Europe after a 43-year union, President Donald Trump, who supported the push for Brexit, still apparently has no idea what it actually means.

That lack of basic understanding was reflected in a tweet from the US president this week touting a potential trade deal with the UK:

There’s only one problem: Brexit is going to take a long time, at least two years, and only after it is completed can the UK even begin to negotiate an outside trade deal. Until that time, the UK will still be in the European Union, meaning it will be unable to set up independent trade agreements.

After that, trade deals generally take several years to work out, so the idea that Trump is about to unite with a maverick UK in order to stick it to Europe is pure fiction.

Caroline Freund, trade economist and senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics (where I used to work), offered some insight into the tough, long slog that often goes into working out Free Trade Agreements in a study last year: “On average it takes 1½ years to negotiate an FTA with the United States but over 3½ years to reach the implementation stage,” she found after reviewing 20 different US trade agreements.

At this point, the European Union holds most of the cards in Brexit talks because it has become blatantly clear that Britain has much more to lose from the separation.

Bloomberg View columnist Leonid Bershidsky has some sound advice for the British. 

“The UK ought to concentrate on the more important trade relationship with the EU. With the right concessions, it can still get a good deal,” he wrote this week. “Hoping for a victory with the outwardly friendly Trump administration is delusional.”