Trade

Boris Johnsons Brexit sock yarn unravels

NEW YORK — Boris Johnson put his foot in it with U.K. sock manufacturers.

The U.K. prime minister on Sunday night vowed to take Donald Trump to task over what he described as trade restrictions on the footwear as part of a post-Brexit trade deal.

Speaking to journalists as he flew to the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Johnson said he will tell the U.S. president when the pair meet on Tuesday that he wants to “open up American markets.”

“If you try to sell British socks in North America, they currently attract a 19 percent tariff and the Americans insist, before they allow British socks to be sold on the U.S. market, that they must try to set fire to them twice,” the prime minister enthused. “And I will make this point to President Trump.”

But sock manufacturers have questioned whether the PM has his sock facts right. Leading British sock firm Corgi Socks told POLITICO that U.S. regulations do not present a problem for their business.

Boris Johnson vowed to take Donald Trump to task over what he described as trade restrictions on socks as part of a post-Brexit trade deal.

“We are at the upper end of the sock market and have a good U.S. business,” said the companys Managing Director Chris Jones, who is enthusiastic about a post-Brexit trade deal with Trump. Around 20 percent of their production is exported to the U.S., with half that going to Europe. “Duty tariffs [with the U.S.] are a bit of a barrier, regulations are not. We have no problem with regulations selling in the U.S.”

Jones said he had never heard of a rule that sock imports have to be fire-tested twice. “That said, the U.S. would probably have strict rules on [any] product coming in that it meets certain standards, not that we ever get asked for that sort of testing. All our socks are made of natural fibers, which like hair does not burn so we would not have a problem. I think that was a case of the PM referring to strict U.S. import regulations, but using a bad example off the cuff.

“We are confident after Brexit if a U.S. trade deal can be done it will be very good for business,” he added.

Rueven Fletcher, owner of the Sock Council, a U.K. retailer that describes itself as “connoisseurs of fine hosiery” and “a membership organisation that celebrates good socks,” was less complimentary about Johnsons intervention. “My opinion is that if it comes out of Boris Johnsons mouth its likely not to be true, you may quote me on that if it helps,” he said.

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