Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May. Picture: REUTERS/STEFAN WERMUTH
Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May. Picture: REUTERS/STEFAN WERMUTH

British Prime Minister Theresa May chided Donald Trump, insisting her country could strike trade agreements outside the EU as she began a nationwide tour on Tuesday to whip up support for the contested Brexit divorce deal.

May set off for Wales and Northern Ireland, hours after US President Trump said it seemed like a great deal for the EU that could block Britain from forging its own trade agreements with the US.

May has two weeks to convince the public, and crucially, a divided parliament, before the December 11 vote in the House of Commons that could lead to  humiliating defeat and sink the deal.

Trump suggested May made a mistake by signing an agreement that could  impede a future London-Washington trade deal.

“Sounds like a great deal for the EU,” he said at the White House.  “We have to take a look at seriously whether or not the UK is allowed to trade.

“As the deal stands, they may not be able to trade with the US and I don’t think they want that at all. That would be a very big negative for the deal,” said the president, who is close to leading Brexiteers in the UK. “I don't think that the prime minister meant that and hopefully she’ll be able to do something about that.”

Starting her tour in Builth Wells, central Wales, May insisted Trump had not rained on her parade.

“We will have an independent trade policy and we will be able to negotiate trade deals with countries around the rest of the world,” she said.

“As regards the United States, we have already been talking to them about the sort of agreement that we could have in the future. It will no longer be a decision taken by Brussels. We will have control of that and we will strike trade deals that will enhance our prosperity, enhance our economy and bring jobs to the UK.”

Her spokesperson said there were no plans for one-on-one talks between May and Trump at the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires this weekend.

The pound was down about 0.3% against the dollar while London's FTSE 100 share index was down 0.4% in early afternoon trade.

On Sunday, May wrapped up 17 months of complex talks with Brussels by sealing Brexit arrangements with leaders of the 27 other EU states.

But this tortuous chapter on ending Britain’s 45-year involvement in the European project was just the beginning of another struggle.

May runs a minority Conservative government, with opposition parties and  many of her own MPs against the deal.

Some Brexiteers think it will keep Britain shackled to Brussels while pro-EU legislators think the terms are worse than staying in the bloc and want a second referendum.

Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn called the deal “an act of national self-harm”.

May, who ducked televised debates during the 2017 snap general election, challenged Corbyn to a TV contest round about  December 9.

“I am ready to debate it with Jeremy Corbyn because I have got a plan. He hasn’t got a plan,” The Sun newspaper quoted her as saying.

A Labour spokesman said: “Jeremy would relish a head-to-head debate with Theresa May about her botched Brexit deal and the future of our country.”

In London, Brexit figurehead Nigel Farage launched a billboard campaign reading “Welcome to the worst deal in history”.

A few streets away, anti-Brexit youth movement Our Future, Our Choice rolled out a campaign bus urging MPs to heed their voices.

In Luxembourg, lawyers for a group of Scottish politicians argued before the top European court that the British parliament should have the unilateral power to halt the countdown to Brexit, set for March 29.

A Scottish court has referred the case, which hinges on whether London could simply revoke Britain’s article-50 EU withdrawal process to the European Court of Justice.

The British government argues that the case is a political tactic by pro-EU opponents.

A court source said there could well be a ruling  before year's end, but the European Court of Justice had to decide first if it accepted jurisdiction in the case.

AFP