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Biden speaks to new British prime minister, with allies’ ‘special relationship’ at stake

New UK Prime Minister Liz Truss gives her first speech at Downing Street on Sept. 6, 2022, in London. The new prime minister defeated fellow Conservative Rishi Sunak in the contest for party leader. (Carl Court/Getty Images/TNS)

With Liz Truss as the new British prime minister, the “special relationship” with the U.S. is on course for redefinition with a conservative leader who is much more of a hard-liner than her predecessor.

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President Joe Biden spoke to his counterpart Tuesday afternoon, in a conversation that will set the tone for the future working relationship of two allies that have been historically close but do not always see eye to eye.

The White House’s description of the call alluded to the potential friction between Biden, a Democrat, and Truss, a Conservative who underwent a political transformation and went from being anti-Brexit to one of its most dedicated cheerleaders.

The leaders “discussed their shared commitment to protecting the gains of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and the importance of reaching a negotiated agreement with the European Union on the Northern Ireland Protocol,” the White House said in a statement. Before the call, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the U.S. continued to make a priority of “the gains of the Belfast Agreement and preserving peace, stability and prosperity for the people of Northern Ireland.”

Biden was critical of the UK departing the European Union and given his Irish American background felt particular concern about how a UK government could undermine the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which drew a line under three decades of violence in the region.

The worry is whether Truss, who succeeded Boris Johnson earlier Tuesday, would tear up key parts of the Brexit deal that keeps Northern Ireland in the bloc’s single market for goods to avoid imposing a hard border on the island of Ireland.

The intervention comes at another tricky juncture for UK-EU relations as the deadline approaches for Truss’s government to respond to reactive legal proceedings launched by Brussels accusing the UK of four infringements to the Northern Ireland treaty. The deadline for the response is Sept. 15.

Truss is seeking to meet Biden when she makes her international debut at the United Nations General Assembly later in September, according to a person familiar with her thinking. Even so, her domestic in-tray is laden with an announcement on energy this week and tax plans next, leaving her less bandwidth for pursuing trade deals with a reluctant American president. The U.S. declined comment.

But the White House did say that the Biden-Truss conversation Tuesday included “securing sustainable and affordable energy resources.” The leaders also discussed cooperation on Ukraine, China and the Iran nuclear talks.

Most pointedly, Truss is less keen on the “special relationship,” a term fetishized by the Tory press to describe the personal affinity between Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.

Last year, on the fringes of the annual Tory party conference, she said she sees the relationship with the U.S. as “special but not exclusive,” comparing the jostling of nations positioning to be close to the U.S. as a “beauty contest.”

The UK, she told the audience, shouldn’t be “worried like some teenage girl at a party if we’re not considered to be good enough. I don’t I just don’t see it like that.”


© 2022 Bloomberg L.P
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