Liz Truss to visit US within weeks of entering No 10 to win support for Brexit

Liz Truss - PHIL NOBLE
Liz Truss – PHIL NOBLE

Liz Truss will fly to America later this month seeking to forge ties with Joe Biden’s administration if she wins the Tory leadership race and becomes prime minister.

Whoever succeeds Boris Johnson is expected to attend the United Nations General Assembly in person in New York, joining other world leaders for the annual gathering.

Ms Truss accompanied Mr Johnson on the trip last year – her first overseas visit after being promoted to foreign secretary having held the position of international trade secretary.

A face-to-face meeting with Mr Biden, the US president, would be expected, though whether a trip to Washington DC will be included is likely to be decided nearer the time.

The severity of domestic challenges the next prime minister faces has become all too clear in recent weeks as the economic situation has deteriorated during the Tory contest.

Inflation could peak at above 20 per cent. More than a year of recession is forecast. Tripling energy bills means crippling financial hardship looms for scores of families and businesses.

That backdrop is combined with the prospect of more public sector strikes, police preparations for the possibility of civil unrest and soaring NHS waiting lists and concerns.

David Davis, the former Brexit chancellor and a Truss supporter, on Sunday said she would face the most challenging in-tray of any new prime minister since the second world war since Margaret Thatcher. Some commentators questioned whether the circumstances are even more challenging than those the Iron Lady faced in 1979.

Yet less attention has been paid to the long list of fraught international issues that will immediately face the next prime minister, be it Ms Truss, the clear front-runner according to political insiders and the bookmakers, or Rishi Sunak, the former chancellor.

Ms Truss’s trip to America would be a reflection of the diplomatic calendar – the UN General Assembly takes place every year in late September and attendance in person by the British prime minister is expected.

But it reflects what would likely be a key drive in her early foreign policy: Picking up where Boris Johnson left off on changing the terms of Northern Ireland trade post-Brexit.

Ms Truss has publicly committed to continuing to push the legislation proposing to give ministers the power to unilaterally suspend parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol through Parliament.

The Bill has triggered fierce criticism from Brussels and words of warning from Democrats in Washington, given it seeks to unpick a Brexit agreement signed off by the UK just a few years ago.

The Northern Ireland Protocol agreed to keep the land border between Northern Ireland and Ireland open, with customs checks instead being done on goods being moved to and from the mainland UK – effectively creating a customs border down the Irish Sea.

Joe Biden - Anadolu Agency
Joe Biden – Anadolu Agency

Ms Truss is among those fierce critics of the arrangement, arguing it undercuts the integrity of the UK since goods can no longer freely flow across the country. But the EU is insisting the UK sticks to the deal it approved.

Mr Biden opposed Brexit when he was US vice president at the time of the 2016 EU membership referendum, bemoaning the result when it was announced.

Since becoming US president Mr Biden, who prides his Irish heritage, has talked about the need to protect Northern Ireland peace and warned both London or Brussels against acting unilaterally – as the UK now is with its legislation.

Senior Democratic congressmen have gone further, insisting that there will be no UK-US trade deal if London rips up the terms of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Ms Truss would likely use a US visit to attempt to ease concerns about her Brexit approach – perhaps stressing she too wants to protect Northern Ireland peace, as Mr Johnson did during his White House visit last autumn – while defending the right to act.

There have been media reports that Ms Truss would also make a visit to Ireland, potentially a critical broker in the Northern Ireland Protocol discussions, given its status as an EU member and a neighbour of Northern Ireland.

Any bid to soften the stances of world leaders would be complicated by Ms Truss’s support base among hardline Brexiteers, who she courted while seeking enough support from Tory MPs to make the final shortlist of two Tory leadership candidates.

Making progress in talks with EU leaders, which have effectively stalled for months, would also face fresh hurdles given during one hustings event Ms Truss declined to say whether Emmanuel Macron, the French president, was a friend or foe of the UK. The “jury’s out”, she declared.

Figures in the Truss campaign believe that, despite the recent heated rhetoric with Mr Macron, she could forge a constructive working relationship with him and other European leaders given that Mr Johnson was seen as the architect of Brexit by many politicians on the Continent. Ms Truss voted Remain in the referendum, though is now a Brexit convert.

Supporting Ukraine’s resistance against the Russian invasion – a land war in Europe which has now lasted longer than six months – will be another critical pressing foreign policy challenge.

Ms Truss was foreign secretary the night that Russian tanks rolled across the Ukrainian borders in a full-scale invasion of the country in February, so will be across the details of developments.

Shoring up resilience among fellow European leaders for standing by Kyiv despite the painful economic knock-on effects of soaring energy costs will be an early priority, as will supporting Ukrainian counter-offensives before the winter.

And then there is China. Ms Truss is expected to take a tougher stance on Beijing than her predecessor.

While foreign secretary she signalled that Chinese state-owned companies would no longer be welcome playing a critical role in the UK’s critical national infrastructure.

The clear indication was that in areas such as future nuclear power plants and 5G technology the role of Chinese state-linked firms will be scaled back.

But like so many past prime ministers, it could well be the unexpected foreign policy developments that prove an even greater challenge in the months ahead if Ms Truss wins office.

Published by anthonyhayble

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