WASHINGTON — President Biden traveled to the United Kingdom on Saturday to pay his respects to Queen Elizabeth II at a time of transition in U.S.-British relations, as a new royal and a new prime minister take their place.
Prime Minister Liz Truss’ hawkish approach to Russia and China puts her on the same page as Biden. But the rise of Truss, 47, who once called the US-UK relationship “special but not exclusive”, could mark a new chapter in the transatlantic partnership on trade and more.
A big concern for Biden officials early in Truss’ premiership is his support for legislation that would destroy parts of Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trade deals. Analysts say the move could cause deep tensions between the UK and the European Union and undermine peace in Northern Ireland. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the move would ‘not create the right environment’ for crafting a long-awaited US-UK trade deal coveted by Truss and his Conservative party. .
“She’s signaled that she’s ready to go to bed on this and it’s going to cause a rift not just between the UK and the EU, but the UK and the US,” Max Bergmann said. , director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington and former senior official in the Obama administration’s State Department. “He’s the one who’s going to keep the White House awake at night.”
Biden and Truss were scheduled to meet on Sunday, but the Prime Minister’s Office said on Saturday they would skip the hello weekend, opting instead for a meeting at the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday, although Truss still planned to meet with other world leaders converging on London. for the royal funeral. The White House confirmed the UN meeting just as the president boarded Air Force One.
The two close allies now find themselves in a period of political uncertainty on both sides of the Atlantic. Much like fellow septuagenarian Biden, King Charles III faces questions from the public about whether his age will limit his ability to faithfully perform the duties of the monarch.
Charles, 73, and Biden, 79, discussed global cooperation on the climate crisis last year when they both attended a summit in Glasgow, Scotland. They also met at Buckingham Palace in June 2021 at a reception hosted by the Queen ahead of a world leaders summit in Cornwall.
Truss finds herself, as Biden does, facing questions about whether she has what it takes to lift a country battered by stubborn inflation due to the coronavirus pandemic and exacerbated by Ukraine’s invasion by Russia, unleashing chaos on the global energy market.
All the while, Britain – and the rest of Europe – are watching closely what the upcoming US midterm elections will bring to the Democratic US president after he swore upon taking office that “the ‘America is back’ to be a full partner in the international community after four years of Republican Donald Trump pushing his ‘America First’ worldview.
“It is certainly a time of change and transformation in the UK,” said Barbara A. Perry, director of presidential studies at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia. She added: “We don’t know what will happen at our half-terms. We don’t know what will happen in 2024.”
Truss, a former accountant who was first elected to parliament in 2010, hasn’t had much interaction with Biden. The US president called her earlier this month to congratulate her. Truss, as foreign secretary, accompanied his predecessor, Boris Johnson, on a visit to the White House last year.
It’s more than 75 years since Winston Churchill said there was a “special relationship” between the two nations, a notion leaders on both sides have repeatedly asserted. Still, there were bumps along the way.
Tony Blair was derisively branded by British tabloids as George W. Bush’s ‘poodle’ for supporting the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. David Cameron and Barack Obama had a ‘bromance’, but Obama also had his frustrations with the British over defense spending and the UK’s handling of Libya after the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan forged a close alliance in the midst of the Cold War, with the prime minister once telling students that the Republican president’s “very good sense of humour” had helped their relationship. But there were also difficulties, as when Thatcher and members of his cabinet bristled at the initial neutrality of the Reagan administration during the Falklands War.
The White House did not expect Truss’ announcement in May, when she was foreign secretary, that the government would move forward with legislation that would rewrite parts of the Northern Ireland protocol. The deal was part of Britain’s 2020 Brexit withdrawal from the EU, which aimed to avoid a hard north-south border with Ireland that could disrupt Northern Ireland’s fragile peace.
Now, in the first weeks of Truss’ premiership, Biden administration officials are carefully taking the measure of Britain’s new leader. Analysts say there is some apprehension in the administration that undermining the Northern Ireland Protocol could plunge Europe into trade turmoil at a time when Biden is working mightily to keep the West united in the face of to Russia about its aggression against Ukraine.
“Brexit could become the problem again – the problem that can make it difficult for all of Europe to work together at a time when it is essential for Europe to work together,” Bergmann said. “If you are the Biden administration, now is not the time for the two of your closest partners to fight.”
To be sure, there were areas of friction between Biden and Johnson, who enjoyed a warm relationship with Trump.
Biden has been a strong opponent of Brexit as a candidate and has expressed deep concern about the future of Northern Ireland. Biden even once poked fun at Johnson, calling him a “physical and emotional clone” of Trump.
Johnson worked hard to overcome this impression, highlighting his common ground with Biden on climate change, support for international institutions and specifically ensuring Britain was an early and generous member of the led alliance. by the United States providing economic and military assistance to Ukraine following the Russian invasion.
The former prime minister also unsuccessfully pressed Biden early in his administration to start negotiations on a new US-UK trade deal just as the UK regained control of its domestic trade policy weeks before the taking office and following the end of a post-Brexit transition. period.
But Biden largely focused on his domestic to-do list early in his presidency — spending trillions in spending on coronavirus relief, infrastructure, and more. — and put trade deal negotiations on the back burner.
Elliot Abrams, chairman of the conservative foreign policy group Vandenberg Coalition, said Truss needed Biden to make a new US-UK trade deal a priority. Queen Elizabeth’s funeral will not be the setting for difficult two-way conversations, but it still marks a time for the two leaders to start taking stock of each other.
Truss, who took over from Johnson after being forced to resign amid a series of scandals, is trailing in the opinion polls. She also won her election by a smaller margin than her recent predecessors and is looking for a quick victory.
“I think if I was (Truss), I want the leading role played by Britain, far more than any other country outside the United States, to be recognized in supporting Ukraine,” he said. said Abrams, who has held senior national security and foreign policy positions in the Trump, George W. Bush and Reagan administrations. “And I think I would like to send a positive economic message to the British people, which could be that the free trade agreement negotiations start.”
What the law says about DeSantis and Abbott sending migrants to blue states