UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson (right) with US secretary of state Mike Pompeo (left) in London on January 30 2020. Picture: POOL/AFP/KEVIN LAMARQUE
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson (right) with US secretary of state Mike Pompeo (left) in London on January 30 2020. Picture: POOL/AFP/KEVIN LAMARQUE

London — US secretary of state Mike Pompeo predicted on Thursday that Brexit will bring “enormous benefits” to the US and the UK, during a visit to Britain on the eve of its historic departure from the EU.

Ahead of talks with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson about a post-Brexit trade deal and other key issues, Pompeo said he was optimistic about Britain’s nearly half a century of EU membership ending late on Friday.

“There were things that the UK was required to do as part of being a member of the EU, and they’ll be able to do them differently now,” Washington’s top diplomat told a think-tank audience in London.

“Some of this will be worked out through the free-trade agreement, some of it will be worked out by entrepreneurs just kicking it,” he said, alongside British foreign secretary Dominic Raab. “You will see the enormous benefits that accrue to both of our nations as a result of this.”

Britain will enter a new chapter when it becomes the first country to quit the EU’s institutions at midnight Brussels time (11pm GMT) on Friday.

“It is a great moment for our country ... a moment of hope and opportunity,” Johnson said on Wednesday, as he prepared to address the nation at 10pm GMT on Friday — an hour before Brexit.

Contentious issues

Although Britain will remain under most EU rules during an 11-month transition period, it is likely to lose privileged access to the single European market — the world’s largest and most important for UK trade.

Johnson has argued he can negotiate ambitious free-trade agreements with both his 27 former partners and the US, but has seen recent strains in the “special relationship” with Washington.

Britain has been angered by American refusal to extradite the wife of a US diplomat who is using the cover of diplomatic immunity to avoid prosecution over the death of a teenager in a road accident in England. Johnson’s hopes for a US trade deal are also complicated by Trump’s unpopularity in Britain and domestic pressure to stand up to Washington.

Johnson has defied expectations since taking power last July by failing to side with the US on everything from the Iran nuclear deal, which US President Donald Trump has abandoned, to working with Chinese tech giant Huawei. Trump — a long-time fan of Brexit and Johnson’s ability to deliver it successfully — has publicly urged Britain to rethink, yet has so far been restrained in his criticism.

However, others, including Republican senators who will have to sign off on a future US-UK trade deal, have cautioned that sharing intelligence and striking an agreement could be imperiled by the Huawei decision, in particular.

Pompeo, in London on the first leg of a five-nation tour that also takes in Ukraine, sounded a more positive note on Thursday. He said the US-UK intelligence-sharing relationship will remain “deep” and “strong” and that he is “confident” the next generation of technology would be secure.

However, he warned strongly about Beijing’s growing global influence, calling China’s ruling Communist Party “the central threat of our times” that challenges Western principles. He added that Western allies must “ensure that the next century is governed by these Western democratic principles”.

‘Long live Europe’

Britons narrowly backed departing the EU in a 2016 referendum that left the country locked in political crisis and acrimonious division. Johnson, who headed the pro-Leave campaign, won a thumping election victory in December on the mantra “Get Brexit done”.

That is now finally happening, with Britain’s departure set in European law on Wednesday, amid emotional scenes, as the bloc’s parliament voted to ratify the divorce papers.

“We will always love you and we will never be far,” said EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, adding: “Long live Europe.”

Britain’s Eurosceptic lawmakers were in triumphant mood after two decades as a thorn in the Brussels side, brandishing British flags in contravention of the chamber’s rules.