President-elect Donald Trump has given Brexiteers hope that there will be a trade deal in the offing as British Prime Minister Theresa May prepares to give a speech signalling 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 US would "very quickly" draw up a trade deal with the UK once it leaves the bloc.
"I'm a big fan of the UK, 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 trade deal, Trump said, would be good for the US and the UK, and he added that he would be meeting 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.
Trade deals can be extremely complicated and take several years to finalise, and Britain cannot enter into formal trade negotiations with the US while it is still a member of the EU Once Britain triggers Article 50 -- the formal mechanism by which a country can leave the bloc -- negotiations are expected to last two years.
According to the Guardian, the prime minister's spokeswoman told reporters that the British government welcomed Trump's comments, but said Britain would not enter into free trade agreements while it remains a member of the EU. However, Britain's EU membership does not rule out early "scoping discussions," the spokeswoman said.
Gove told the BBC on Monday Trump seemed "emotionally and financially invested" in Britain making a success of Brexit and 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.
I think it's very good news that the United States of America wants to do a good free trade deal.
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"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 foreign secretary and another prominent Brexiteer, told reporters in Brussels: "I think it's very good news that the United States of America wants to do a good free trade deal"
Trump also questioned whether other countries would follow in Britain's footsteps and walk away from the EU.
"I believe others will leave. I do think keeping it together is not going to be as easy as a lot of people think. And I think this, if refugees keep pouring into different parts of Europe . . . I think it's going to be very hard to keep it together because people are angry about it," he said.
The fact that your pound sterling has gone down? Great. Because business is unbelievable in a lot of parts of the UK, as you know. I think Brexit is going to end up being a great thing.
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His 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.
On Sunday, 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 EU single market and customs union. This is seen as the price Britain will have to pay to regain control over EU migration and freedom from EU law.
Following these reports over the weekend, 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 UK, as you know. I think Brexit is going to end up being a great thing," he said.