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Obama, May Discuss US-Britain Trade Relations


Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May (L) and U.S. President Barack Obama shake hands after speaking to reporters following their bilateral meeting alongside the G20 Summit, in Ming Yuan Hall at Westlake Statehouse in Hangzhou, China, September 4, 2016.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said Sunday that she intends to seize new trading opportunities for a Britain that has voted to leave the European Union, reiterating that “Brexit does indeed mean Brexit” and there will be “no attempt to get out of this.”

After May's first meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama since she took office in July, the two leaders sought to downplay the impact of the British exit on the much touted “special relationship” between the U.S. and U.K.

But Obama did not back away from his assertion, first made as he campaigned against the exit, that Britain would have to wait its turn before the United States would negotiate a new, separate trade deal with a Britain outside the EU. Obama noted the U.S. remains focused on finishing trade deals with Asian Pacific countries and with the EU.

The president said that he believed that Britain's priority meanwhile was “figuring out what Brexit means with respect to Europe.” Still, Obama promised to work closely with May to avoid “adverse effects” in the trade relationship.

Britain narrowly voted to leave the EU in June, but the government has yet to formally invoke Article 50, the EU treaty clause that would set up its departure. Invoking the clause would start a two-year countdown that would be unlikely to benefit Britain as it has not yet worked out what it wants its future relationship with the European Union to look like.

There is also opposition to a British exit among a significant part of the population and questions over whether Parliament will be given a formal vote on triggering Article 50.

“There will be no second referendum, no attempt to turn the clock back, no attempt to try to get out of this,” May told reporters on the sidelines of the Group of 20 industrialized nations in the Chinese city of Hangzhou. Britain “will be leaving the European Union,” she said.

At a separate news conference minutes later, European Council President Donald Tusk reiterated the EU stance that they will not start negotiating with Britain on its future relationship with a 27-member bloc until the British government formally invokes Article 50.

He said his words may sound “brutal” but he added: “We need to protect the interests of the members of the EU that want to stay together, not the one which wants to leave.”

May also said that she would take a decision this month on whether to approve a French-built and Chinese-backed power plant project in Britain that Beijing is counting on to boost its nuclear technology exports. She abruptly stalled approval for the project pushed through by her predecessor, and said Sunday she was reviewing “all the evidence around this issue,” including relating to national security.

Critics of the planned Hinkley Point project say its technology is untested, it is a bad financial deal for Britain and serious security concerns remain about a Chinese state-owned company investing in key infrastructure that could give Beijing major political leverage in the event of a conflict.