The UK’s special relationship with the States will remain strong whatever the outcome of Brexit negotiations, the US ambassador has suggested, as he claims no other country “comes close” to having the same cultural and commercial ties.
Speaking exclusively to regional journalists, ambassador Matthew Barzun has dismissed suggestions that Britain will be bumped to the “back of the queue” after leaving the EU – despite similar warnings from the outgoing President Obama.
He has also stressed the need for ongoing cooperation between the two countries on the international stage, as he paid tribute to a historic alliance founded on “shared beliefs and values”.
The words of assurance from the American diplomat come at a time of intense speculation about the future of UK relations with the US.
Both nations stand on the edge of a dramatic political transition, with the repercussions of June’s Brexit vote and last month’s presidential election only just beginning to be felt.
One of the key areas of uncertainty is the issue of trade, and whether Britain will continue to be seen as a desirable trading partner if it loses access to the single market.
These doubts have been fuelled by President Obama, who has twice hinted that the UK could be left at the “back of the queue” for trade deals as a result of its decision to leave.
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Mr Barzun sought to allay these fears, stressing that despite the lack of clarity round Brexit Britain remains America’s “number one” trading partner.
And while he admits that the US is still intent on striking a trade deal with Europe, he claims no other country “even comes a close second” to the UK in terms of scale and priority.
“We’ve been each other’s number one investors... This is £500bn of investment both ways,” he told the paper.
“That didn’t happen overnight, it didn’t happen because of just one deal, it’s decades and decades of accumulated connections.
“And I am confident that while the UK and the remaining 27 [member states] figure out what their future relationship will be... all the connections that happen [are] going to continue.
“President Obama was very careful to say [the referendum] is up to you and if you ask here’s what we think’. And regardless of the outcome on June 24 and going forward, this special relationship is unbreakable.”
As an appointee of the Obama administration, Mr Barzun is open about the fact that his days at the embassy are numbered.
He has just five and a half weeks left before he hands over the reigns to his successor, who will be chosen by President elect Donald Trump.
His role requires him to remain politically neutral, however he recently came close to criticising Mr Trump on LBC radio when he warned that his policies towards Muslims bordered on unconstitutional.
But he refused to be drawn on Mr Trump’s use of Twitter to recommend Nigel Farage as the UK’s new ambassador, telling the paper only that the current ambassador Sir Kim Darroch is doing a “great job”.
He also made it clear that he cannot speak on behalf of the incoming president, and has not met with Mr Trump or his team.
However he stressed the Obama administration is doing all it can to ensure a “smooth transition of power” and to “focus on the future”.
“President Obama has been very clear. George W. Bush’s team were unbelievably professional and helpful [during the 2008 transition] at every level,” he said.
“It made a real impression on him and he is asking every member of his team to extend that same warm and constructive transition.”
He also emphasised the importance of the UK and US’s shared “beliefs and values”, stating that it is “no accident we are shoulder to shoulder in places around the world”.
“There are hard things to be done around the world... We should lean into the hardwork together and that’s how the friendship will be continually reestablished,” he said.