The UK will be “first in line” for a trade deal with the US after Brexit – which could pursue a “sector-by-sector” deal with Britain, US national security adviser John Bolton said.
Speaking following a meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson on a visit to London, Mr Bolton said the US could focus on certain sectors like manufacturing and car-making where the two countries may agree, and work out more complicated areas later.
Mr Bolton said US trade negotiators think this is acceptable under World Trade Organisation rules.
Mr Bolton also said issues like security in Iran, and fears over Huawei’s involvement in the UK’s 5G network could wait until after Brexit to be resolved.
Mr Bolton said: “A prior American president said that if the United Kingdom left the European Union, it would go to the back of the queue on trade deals.
“To be clear, in the Trump administration, Britain’s constantly at the front of the trade queue, or line as we say.”
Mr Bolton said the US had been “ready to negotiate” with Theresa May’s government, and said the US could do a trade deal with the UK “in pieces” on a sector-by-sector basis.
He said: “We want to move very quickly. We wish we could have moved further along in this with the prior government.”
He added: “We were ready to negotiate. We are ready to negotiate now.”
Mr Bolton said the US could do a trade deal with the UK “in pieces” and concentrate on areas, like manufacturing and the car-making industry, they can agree on first.
He said: “You could do it sector by sector, you could do it in a modular fashion in other words.
“You could carve out some areas where it might be possible to reach a bilateral agreement very quickly, very straight forwardly.
“That would then lock that in and when the other areas that might be more difficult were concluded later, you could combine it in one overall agreement.
“So the objective is either one document or a series of agreements that would be comprehensive.
“In order to expedite things and enhance the possibility for increasing the trade and investments between the two countries, doing it in a sector-by-sector approach or some other approach that the trade negotiators might agree with, we are open to that.”
He added: “The idea of doing it in pieces rather than waiting for the whole thing is not unprecedented. I think here we see the importance and urgency of doing as much as we can agree on as rapidly as possible because of the impending October 31 exit date.”
Asked whether piecemeal trade agreements like this are allowed under WTO rules, Mr Bolton said: “Our trade negotiators seem to think it is.”
Mr Bolton said issues like Iran, China, and Huawei could be put off until after Brexit.
He said: “The message I wanted to convey on Iran, and on some other issues in which I include China, 5G, Huawei, that cluster of issues, is that the President and the US Government fully understands that in the next few days the UK Government has a singular focus on the Brexit issue, so that we are not hoping for anything on these broad and complex questions.
“We just ask that, as issues come up, we resolve them individually and we reserve the time to have a larger conversation on some of these important issues at a moment that is really right for the new government. We just felt we owe them that.
“Obviously we have views on these issues, I think that is appreciated by the new government. They said in particular that looking really from square one on the Huawei issue that they were very concerned about not having any compromise in the security of telecommunications in the 5G space.”
He added: “We don’t want to put you under pressure on these issues. There will be time enough to talk, that is really all we ask for.”
Mr Bolton said he is “pleased” that Boris Johnson’s government had agreed to participate in Operation Sentinel to improve security in the Persian Gulf, saying this “reflects a change from the prior government”.
Mr Bolton also attacked the EU and said the UK’s decision to leave the EU should be respected.
Mr Bolton said: “The fashion in the European Union when the people vote the wrong way from the way that the elites want to go, is to make the peasants vote again and again until they get it right.”
He said it is “hard to imagine” people in the UK did not know “what was at stake” when they voted to leave the EU in 2016.
Mr Bolton also said the UK’s decision to leave the EU would result in a stronger Nato and give the UK a more powerful international voice.