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Q+A: Corin Dann talks with Sir Lockwood Smith about Trump’s UK Visit

15/07/2018

Some interesting comments, but think Lockwood Smith was way too diplomatic and accommodating of Trump’s behaviour

Transcript

Q+A: Sir Lockwood Smith interviewed by Corin Dann

Sir Lockwood Smith: Soft Brexit not the answer for the UK

Former New Zealand High Commissioner to the UK Sir Lockwood Smith says Britain needs to seize an opportunity to strike a meaningful post-Brexit trade deal with the EU.

Speaking on TVNZ 1’s Q+A this morning Sir Lockwood told Corin Dann that US President Donald Trump had weakened America’s position in global trade which had created an opportunity for Britain.

“Trump has pulled the US out of being the leader, say, on global trade and global economic issues. And we need the UK to step up,” he said.

“We’ve got to make sure we work with him, we try and- At the end of the day, we’ll see the US start to join things like TPP. I think it’s not impossible, at the end of the day. And I think we’ve just got to make sure we don’t let him rattle us too much.”

Sir Lockwood is currently in the UK working as part of a high powered international trade advisory group in London.

He doubted whether a white paper detailing the UK’s Brexit plans released this week was a step in the right direction.

“A halfway house is not going to work for the UK. They either stay in the EU or they get right out and they start negotiating a free trade agreement with the EU,” he said.

“I just hope they can get there eventually, but it aint easy. Theresa May has a hugely difficult job and no one should pretend that it’s easy.”

Q + A
Episode 18
SIR LOCKWOOD SMITH
Interviewed by Corin Dann

CORIN Joining me from London is our former High Commissioner to the UK, Sir Lockwood Smith, who is currently working as part of a high-powered international trade advisory group in London. Good morning to you, Sir Lockwood.

LOCKWOOD Morning, Corin. Morning.

CORIN Can you just tell us what the mood is like – particularly amongst, I imagine, the governing elite, if you want to call it that, in the UK at the moment? Surely they must have been blindsided by what Trump has delivered over the weekend.

LOCKWOOD I think it would be fair to say his comments certainly created a bit of surprise and consternation here in London. No question about that. I think people are taking a deep breath and thinking about a bit further. Because, like so much of what President Trump says, often there’s a grain of truth behind some of it. And the issue around the white paper proposal – the Chequer’s decision the other day with respect to Brexit – what Trump had to say about that is a concern. It is a global concern. If the UK is to become a global leader on trade, that proposal doesn’t exactly help. 

CORIN Right. So you don’t- You think that he won’t be received that badly. We see him backing Boris. Are you suggesting that if the white paper proceeds with Theresa May, her government’s done for and he might be right that Boris would be Prime Minister?

LOCKWOOD No, no, I’m not saying that at all, but there are some challenges facing the white paper. It’s got to go to Parliament, and I think the Prime Minister has issues around being able to get the numbers she needs in the Commons there to get it supported. And so it is a really tricky time here, and there’s no doubt that President Trump’s comments haven’t helped. To be endorsing Boris at a time where the Prime Minister’s facing some challenges, ain’t easy. It ain’t helpful. And so that’s why I say a lot of thinking people are saying, ‘Let’s just take a bit of a breath here, a deep breath here, and think this through pretty carefully.’

CORIN But why should people in the UK trust Trump and why should they trust him as a supposed ally when he wades into domestic politics and is ripping up the rulebook?

LOCKWOOD I think you’ve got to understand Trump’s style. I mean, he always goes out hard at the start. It’s the way he used to do trade deals. He always goes over the top. He always makes sure he can get the headlines. And then he tends to try to round off the rough edges he creates once he’s got those headlines. And I think I don’t expect him to be ripping up the rulebook at all. I’m worried, I mean some of the things like not appointing people to the adjudication panels at the WTO dispute system, those sort of things are real worry. And, of course, his pulling out of TPP was a worry, but at the end of the day, there will be limits to what he does and I think we’ve just got to make sure we don’t let him take us over the top in responding to some of his more outlandish claims.

CORIN But hasn’t his language and the way he is conducting foreign affairs – it will embolden the likes of Putin, won’t it? It will embolden the dictators and the others who see it as strong-man tactics.

LOCKWOOD I think you’re right there. Undoubtedly, the language doesn’t help. And I think when you look at what he said here in the UK, what he said at NATO, he ruffled feathers. I was in Europe just earlier in the week and he ruffled feathers over there. And the language sure doesn’t help. But we must make sure that he doesn’t let us fall into the trap of getting too shaken up by it all. We’ve got to make sure we work with him, we try and- At the end of the day, we’ll see the US start to join things like TPP. I think it’s not impossible, at the end of the day. And I think we’ve just got to make sure we don’t let him rattle us too much.

CORIN But how can he not rattle us when what we’re seeing is him playing out – which, granted, he got elected on – his America First platform, where he still seems to be casting aside traditional ways of doing things. How does a country like New Zealand deal with that, given if we were to, say, not side with him on something, we might face some sort of pretty harsh consequences?

LOCKWOOD I think you’re right. We’ve got to make sure our position is clear on things. We’ve got to make sure we encourage him to stay within the international rules-based system, that he stays in all the international bodies that we’re involved in that make the world work better. And it’s important we do keep working with him on that. But I just feel there are times- It was fascinating while I was here. The interview he did with The Star, was it, was just almost- well, it was outrageous. It created such upset. But at the end of the day, what one’s got to sift through is what did he say that actually makes some sense and the issue is we need the UK to become a global player. Trump has pulled the US out of being the leader, say, on global trade and global economic issues. And we need the UK to step up. The UK’s got to think through carefully – does this white paper that’s putting forward, does it really enable the UK to step up to become a global leader on trade? And the other issue, of course, is the EU going to accept it? So there are many issues there at the moment, and I think we desperately need the UK to take a leadership role. And I’m not sure this compromise paper makes that possible. In some ways, a halfway house is not going to work for the UK. They either stay in the EU or they get right out and start negotiating a genuine free trade agreement with the EU. It ought to be easy. They start with a customs union, they start from a common market, it ought to be the easiest thing in the world to negotiate. And so, the group I’ve been working with have been trying to encourage ministers to see an alternative way for forward and get some negotiating papers on the table around a genuine free trade agreement with the EU. But, of course, this white paper has kind of put that in the background now.

CORIN Is there a possibility, then, given that Theresa May, this white paper seen as the Soft Brexit, that we have no deal? That there is no Brexit deal come March when they’ve got to leave?

LOCKWOOD There’s a risk of that. There’s a view up here that the EU won’t accept this deal because they’ve always made clear that the UK won’t be able to pick what it likes out of the old EU arrangements and this deal that’s proposed tends to do that. There are people like– I’ve spent some time discussing all this with people like Boris and Michael Gove and the new guy who’s replaced David Davis, Dominic Raab, just a couple of weeks ago, and a lot of these people understand what’s really needed for the UK to become Global Britain, if you like, again. So that can actually join the Transpacific Partnership, negotiate FTAs with Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the US – these sort of countries . A lot of these guys understand that, but the dilemma is how do they get there? And this paper, this white paper, is pretty much a compromise, and there’s no guarantee it’s going to move ahead. And you’re absolutely right – there could be a risk the UK falls over a cliff at the end of March next year. But there’s no need for that. We’re trying to encourage a real serious go at negotiating the world’s best free trade agreement for the EU.

CORIN But, surely, Sir Lockwood-

LOCKWOOD And as I said before-

CORIN Theresa May’s government now, well, her role hinges- If that white paper and the Soft Brexit option fails, that’s surely the end of her time as Prime Minister, and I just wonder, before you go, is Boris the man?

LOCKWOOD I’m not going to comment on leadership here in the United Kingdom. What I would say is in my working with Boris, he certainly has his mind around the trade issues involved in all of this. There’s no question about that. I was with him only a couple of weeks ago. But so do other key players here in the UK. So, he’s not alone there, but the dilemma is that there’s those who never accepted the Leave referendum and are trying to keep the UK as close to the EU as possible. But a halfway house is not going to work. They’ve got to see that they’ve got to actually leave the EU and negotiate a real-world leading FTA with the EU – free trade agreement, with the EU. And that will deliver, by far, the best outcome for both the UK and the EU over the next 10 to 15 years. I just hope they can get there eventually, but it ain’t easy. Theresa May has a hugely difficult job and no one should pretend that it’s easy.

CORIN Sir Lockwood Smith, thank you very much for your time. 

Please find attached the full transcript and the link to the interview

Q+A, 9-10am Sundays on TVNZ 1 and one hour later on TVNZ 1 + 1.

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