UK foreign secretary emerges from meetings with Donald Trumps aides with positive attitude towards future relationship

Boris Johnson has claimed that the UK is first in line for a free trade deal with the US after the Trump administration takes office on 20 January. On a hurriedly arranged trip to the US to reinforce previously weak links with Donald Trumps transition squad, Johnson also declared on Monday that the incoming administration had a very exciting agenda of change.

Johnsons claim about the UKs future status as Washingtons favor trading partner was a pointed including references to Barack Obamas advising during the course of its EU referendum campaign that Britain would be at the back of the queue for a trade deal if it chose Brexit.

At the time, the US and EU were trying to complete a transatlantic trade and investment partnership( TTIP ), but that appears to have no future under the presidency of Donald Trump, who operated on a platform of opposition to multilateral trade deals.

After visits to see top aides in Trump Tower in New York and fulfill each member of Congress in Washington, Johnson told: Clearly, the Trump administration-to-be has a very exciting agenda of change. One thing that wont change, though, is the closeness of the relationship between the US and the UK.

We are the number two contributor to defence in Nato. We are Americas principal partner in working for global security and, of course, we are great campaigners for free trade. We hear that we are first in line to do a great free trade deal with the United States. So, its about to become a very exciting year for both our countries.

The UK foreign secretarys trip to the US before Trumps inauguration on 20 January was aimed at making up a deficit in relations with the new administration due in some part to Johnsons past disparaging statements about the president-elect, who he once was regarded as unfit to hold office in the White House.

Following the president-elects suggestion that he would back a ban on Muslims entering the US and that parts of London were no-go areas, the foreign secretary told Trump was clearly out of his mind and betraying a quite stupefying ignorance that induces him unfit to hold the office of president of the United States. Since Trumps victory, however, Johnson has described the billionaire as a dealmaker and called for an end to the whinge-o-rama over his victory.

Confronted with Trumps remarks about sexually assaulting females, which surfaced in video footage during the electoral campaign, Theresa May said on Sunday: I think thats unacceptable, but in fact Donald Trump himself has said that and has apologised for it.

The British prime minister told Sky News there was more to relations between London and Washington than Trumps character. The relationship that the UK has with the United States is about something much bigger than merely the relationship between the two individuals as president and prime minister.

May was speaking as Trump tweeted:

Donald J. Trump (@ realDonaldTrump)

I look very much forward to meeting Prime Minister Theresa May in Washington in the Springtime. Britain, a longtime U.S. ally, is very special!

January 8, 2017

In New York, Johnson gratified Steve Bannon, Trumps chief strategist and the former executive chairman of Breitbart News, which Bannon once described as a platform for the alt-right, a group known for white nationalist and antisemitic views.

The foreign secretary also gratified Jared Kushner, Trumps son-in-law, who has been acting since the election as his chief foreign policy consultant and a gateway for foreign embassies and governments to Trump himself.

Having been late in identifying Kushner as the main diplomatic conduit to the president-elect, the UK is hoping that a pre-inauguration visit from the foreign secretary could solidify the link before the nominee for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, is confirmed by the Senate.

A British official said the meetings at Trump Tower in New York were warm and frank, and covered the full range of foreign policy issues. They recognise changes but said that they were ready to work together on those changes, the official told.

On Monday morning, Johnson held an off-the-record debate with US political pundits about the shape and likely policies of a Trump administration.

In the afternoon Johnson was due to meet Bob Corker, the Republican chair of the Senate foreign relations committee, and his Democratic equivalent, Ben Cardin, as well as the majority leader, Sen Mitch McConnell, and the Republican House speaker, Paul Ryan.

The foreign secretary is said to be trying to gauge how much support there is in the Republican majority in Congress for a major reorientation of US foreign policy towards Moscow, and any eroding of Washingtons commitment to Nato allies.

A number of senior Senate Republicans, including Corker, have broken with Trump over his rejection of findings by the US intelligence community that Russia actively interfered with the election.

Johnson is visiting Washington at a time when it is unclear what direction Trumps foreign policy will take. According to protocol, he is not permitted to have formal contacts with Tillerson until Senate confirmation hearings, due to start on Wednesday, have been completed.

Read more: www.theguardian.com