National security adviser John Bolton voiced the Trump administration’s full-throated support of the new British prime minister’s push to leave the European Union, saying the US even supports a no-deal “Brexit’ during a visit to London to fortify the once strained US-UK relationship.
“I think if that’s the decision of the British government, we will support it enthusiastically and that’s what I am trying to convey: We are with you. We are with you,” Bolton told reporters on Monday after a series of meetings with top UK government officials.
Bolton, visiting the UK for two days to meet with a whole host of UK leaders, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson, said that he was walking away with the impression that Brexit was going ahead full steam.
The national security adviser cast aside any suggestion that tearing the UK away from the EU may not be the best path forward for the British people. He pointed to the results in the ballot box three years ago as justification for his perspective, delivering a dig to the EU in the process.
“The fashion in the European Union: When the people vote the wrong way from the way the elites want to go, it’s to make the peasants vote again and again until they get it right,” Bolton said.
Bolton is the most senior Trump administration official to visit the UK since Johnson became prime minister less than a month ago. During former British Prime Minister Theresa May’s tenure, there were repeated clashes between US and UK leadership, friction deepened by personality differences between US President Donald Trump and May.
The Trump administration is hoping things will be different under Johnson’s leadership. Trump and Johnson reportedly speak frequently, even chatting on Monday morning before Bolton was headed to meet with the new leader.
As Brexit looms on the horizon, Bolton voiced his support for a US-UK trade deal and hoped that there would be a willingness to engage expediently.
Bolton said there are “palpable economic benefits of Britain getting out of the byzantine EU regulatory system” and predicted the potential for enhanced economic relations between the US and the UK. It remains unclear when the potential US-UK trade agreement will actually come to fruition, but Bolton cast it as a priority for Trump.
“We are prepared to proceed as rapidly as the Brits are,” Bolton told reporters.
Earlier in the day, a senior administration official explained that negotiations are much more alive under Johnson than they were under May.
“They’ll have to figure out how to do what they can by October 31st or soon thereafter. From our point of view, we would have been happy to do it before that,” the official said. “The previous government didn’t want to do it, this government does. We’re very happy about it.”
Bolton explained that certain sectors could be carved out and worked on separately to get the ball rolling, such as the financial sector, but said the ultimate goal is a comprehensive trade agreement. He expects “overwhelming bipartisan support” for such a deal.
On Tuesday, Bolton will meet with UK Secretary of State for International Trade Liz Truss, who was in Washington just last week. When asked about his role in the trade negotiations, given that he is not the official trade negotiator, Bolton justified his involvement in by explaining the ties between America’s role in the world and the necessity for a strong US economy.
“A strong American presence in the world relies on a strong American economy,” Bolton said, calling it a tenet of the Trump administration’s foreign policy. He also said that he works closely with Director of the United States National Economic Council Larry Kudlow, and while US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer conducts actual negotiations on the topic. He called Lighthizer his friend of 45 years.
Bolton, an experienced bureaucrat who has long kept up to date with British politics and knows many British politicians personally, does not appear to be returning home with any hard deliverables.
Bolton made it clear that the US was willing to table the other issues that it eventually hopes to dive into with the UK – including Iran and potential British purchases from the Chinese telecom giant Huawei – because of their “singular focus” on Brexit over the next 180 days. He called it the country’s “existential issue.”
Bolton said the British are examining whether to allow the use of Huawei technology in more detail and depth after delaying a decision earlier this year. He said he was told that the UK will not make decisions until the matter is “thoroughly studied.”
‘Manchurian chip phenomenon’
“They are looking really from square one on the Huawei issue,” said Bolton, who added that he had offered briefings about the US findings on Huawei.
Bolton said the Trump administration views the Chinese technology company as a security threat and hopes that the UK does, too.
“They do not want their telecommunications system in the 5G world to be compromised by the Manchurian chip phenomenon any more than we do,” he declared.
Bolton also said he looks forward to engaging more substantively on Iran with the UK “when it is convenient.,” and he said he expects an independent streak from the UK – in that it will be able to pursue its own national interest and have a more “independent” voice – when it leaves the EU.