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It is a mistake to under-estimate Donald Trump, says Gove

The Environment Secretary said he believes it will be possible to strike a trade deal with the US without dropping standards.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove has told MPs he is “sure” that Britain can secure a post-Brexit free trade deal with the US even if it insists on keeping out American products like chlorine-washed chicken.

Mr Gove said that it would be “a mistake to under-estimate” US President Donald Trump, who he described as a “shrewd negotiator”.

But he suggested that the President’s unorthodox deal-making style might mean that agreement is possible despite apparent obstacles.

Mr Trump last week suggested that Theresa May’s blueprint for Britain’s post-Brexit relations with the EU could “kill” the chances of a free trade deal, because it would tie the UK to Brussels standards on issues like animal welfare and environmental protection.

Although he later assured Mrs May that he was happy with whatever arrangement she secured, so long as she “makes sure we can trade together”, the US has previously indicated it would have difficulties with rules which barred products like genetically-modified crops or hormone-treated beef from the UK.

Speaking to the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee, Mr Gove said Mr Trump was known to take an unconventional approach to deal-making, using “provocative” gambits to “disorientate” the other side “before coming to a satisfactory conclusion”.

While conventional negotiators would respond to a 10-dollar price-tag by offering five dollars before eventually settling at 7.50, Mr Trump was more likely to agree the 10 dollar price before suddenly declaring at the last minute that the product was worthless and dropping his offer to one dollar, he said.

He is a very unique politician, but it is a mistake to under-estimate him Michael Gove on Donald Trump

Mr Gove, who interviewed Mr Trump shortly after his election, during a stint as a journalist for The Times, said that it was striking that the new President’s attitude to the EU was formed by his experience of Brussels bureaucracy as a businessman, as well as his belief that EU policy was framed to give advantages to German car-makers.

“He is a very unique politician, but it is a mistake to under-estimate him,” said Mr Gove. “He has a particular political analysis and also he is a shrewd negotiator.”

“I wouldn’t necessarily judge this president’s deal-making style by the approach that others classically take towards deals,” said Mr Gove.

“Because his style is different that doesn’t mean a deal is any more unlikely, it just means the route is rather more of a roller-coaster.”

Officials at the Department of International Trade and his own Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs were taking time to make a “close study” of the Trump approach before negotiations begin, he told MPs.

Despite increasing protectionist sentiment in the US, he insisted that there is “broad cross-partisan support” in Washington for a trade deal with the UK.

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Michael Gove gave evidence to the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee (parliamentlive.tv)

Mr Gove told the committee that, although chlorine-washed chicken was safe to eat, the use of the chemical indicated that birds were kept “in conditions that we wouldn’t tolerate or allow here”, giving American manufacturers a competitive advantage over those with higher welfare standards.

“My view is that animal welfare and environmental standards overall matter to UK citizens and it is important we uphold them,” he said.

“That’s why I’ve  been clear that in any trade agreement we secure with America or any other country, we shouldn’t see a dilution of those standards.

“Some have said that means it would be impossible to secure a free trade agreement, but I think they are falling prey to the temptation to make the perfect the enemy of the good.

“Perfect free trade without any barriers whatsoever may be attractive to some, but the truth is that it is far, far better – and most free trade agreements recognise this – to respect the sovereignty and autonomy of individual countries with respect to particular standards.

“I’m sure that agreement can be found in a whole range of areas.”

Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, a supporter of the Best for Britain campaign, said: “Gove’s comments show the man is in la la land.

“It is wishful thinking and clearly designed to downplay the facts. When Trump was in the UK he revealed his true colours. Any quick deal with the US is nothing but a pipe dream.

“Instead Gove should join those of us who are trying to keep us in the biggest and best free trade deal in the entire world. The EU.”

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