The US will start to allow imports of UK lamb for the first time in decades, Boris Johnson has said, as he used his trip to Washington to talk up what he termed “solid incremental steps” in mutual trade, in the absence of a formal bilateral deal.
After talks between Johnson and Joe Biden at the White House on Tuesday, Downing Street strongly played down the chances of a rapid UK-US trade deal, something repeatedly cited by Brexiters as a major benefit of leaving the EU.
Speaking to reporters outside the US Capitol building on Wednesday before returning to New York for the UN general assembly, Johnson stressed the expectation of only gradual progress in trade relations.
“What we’re wanting to do is make solid incremental steps in trade,” he said. “The Biden administration is not doing free trade deals around the world right now but I’ve got absolutely every confidence that a great deal is there to be done. And there are plenty of people in that building behind me who certainly want a deal.”
But Johnson did announce a resumption in UK lamb exports. “I can tell you today that what we’re going to get from the United States now is a lifting of the decades-old ban, totally unjustified, discriminating on British farmers and British lamb. It’s about time too.”
The US banned the import of UK beef and lamb in 1989 after the outbreak of BSE in some British cows. The ban of beef imports was lifted a year ago.
One perceived obstacle to a formal trade deal is worries in the Biden White House and among some Congress members about the possible impact of Brexit on peace in Northern Ireland, including tensions about the implementation of border checks.
Johnson contradicted the official Downing Street account of his meeting with the US president, which said the PM had “updated President Biden on the developments with respect to the Northern Ireland protocol since they last met in June”.
Asked if he agreed with comments earlier on Wednesday by the environment secretary, George Eustice, that Biden did not fully understand the protocol, Johnson said: “No. The president, actually, in our meeting yesterday – I don’t think it came up at all.”
Separately, Johnson sought to give more reassurance about the looming energy crisis, rejecting the idea that rising gas prices could lead to panic-buying in supermarkets.
He said: “I don’t think that will happen. I think we’ve got very good supply chains, as I’ve been saying over the last few days, and what we’re seeing is the growing pains of a global economy recovering rapidly from Covid.”