LONDON – President-elect Donald Trump said he would offer the U.K. a quick and "fair" trade deal when he meets Prime Minister Theresa May shortly after taking office, as he signaled a major shift in trans-Atlantic relations.
"We're gonna work very hard to get it done quickly and done properly. Good for both sides," Trump said in an interview with the Times of London conducted by Michael Gove, a former Conservative Cabinet minister who was one of the leaders of the Brexit campaign. "We're gonna get something done very quickly."
The U.K., which plans to start two years of negotiations to leave the European Union by the end of March, cannot strike new trade deals on its own until it has left the E.U., or at least left the bloc's customs union. Still, Trump's comments are likely to buoy May's government, which is trying to show European counterparts that it can prosper outside the E.U., and that Europe has as much to lose from a disorderly split as Britain. The pound strengthened.
Trump's stance contrasts with that of outgoing President Obama, who said during the referendum campaign that Britain would be "at the back of the queue" for any trade accord if it voted to leave the bloc.
Trump's warmth toward Britain, which he says will benefit from its divorce from Europe, contrast with scorn for NATO, the E.U. and German Chancellor Angela Merkel's refugee policy. He forecast other countries would leave the 28 nation bloc, which he described as a "vehicle for Germany," and said leaving would be good for Britain.
Signaling a further shift in relations between the U.S. and Europe, Trump also said he would consider lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia as part of a nuclear-weapons reduction deal. He spoke to Germany's Bild alongside the Times.
His comments on the outlook for a U.K. trade deal may also make it more attractive for Britain to leave the customs union, the trading arrangement that all E.U. countries belong to but which also includes non-EU members. Those favoring a clean break from the bloc want May to exit the customs union before Brexit, which would free the government's hand to have trade talks but also impose costs on exporters.
May is scheduled to outline her vision for Brexit on Tuesday, and newspapers reported at the weekend that she would signal a willingness to leave the single market in order to clamp down on immigration. She sent her two most senior aides on a secret trip to the U.S. in December and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, another pro-Brexit figure who sees Britain's future in free-trade deals beyond Europe, visited Trump's team last week.