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20 September 2022

Liz Truss faces a frosty reception at the UN

As national mourning for the Queen ends, a priority for the Prime Minister is strained relations with the US and France.

By Freddie Hayward

Queen Elizabeth II was buried yesterday, the ceremony a grand and moving end to her 70-year reign. The national period of mourning is over and politics will return to the fore.

There are two main theories about how the past week’s events have affected Liz Truss’s premiership. One, they lent her gravitas. Two, they suffocated her first week in office and forced her to squeeze important announcements into a couple of days before parliamentary recess. The latter seems more convincing.

One of the key areas in which Truss must establish herself quickly is foreign policy. She faces a tricky reception in New York this morning at the United Nations General Assembly. The former foreign secretary marshalled the (partial) passage of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill through parliament, which boosted her Brexit credentials among the Conservative membership but as Prime Minister it has soured her relationship with the United States. The White House stressed that during their first phone call Truss and Joe Biden, the president, agreed on the importance of Britain reaching a negotiated agreement with the EU; Truss has also admitted over night that a trade deal is unlikely to be agreed with the US for years.

Could there be a rapprochement? Truss could compromise on the Northern Ireland Protocol because she no longer needs to pander to the Tory membership. Her commitment to maintain high levels of military aid for Ukraine and harden the UK’s policy on China may be warmly received in the White House.

Truss also faces a tricky reception from the French. During the Conservative leadership campaign she said she didn’t know whether Emmanuel Macron was a friend or foe. The French president then seemed to take the moral high ground with a series of affectionate tributes to the Queen and the British people over the past few days.

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David Lammy, the shadow foreign secretary, is in New York meeting UN officials and foreign ministers today. Labour would scrap the changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol and restore the UK’s aid budget to 0.7 per cent of GDP. As with other policy areas, the contrast between the government and Labour is stark. Labour desires international cooperation, whereas Truss has damaged key relationships in the pursuit of domestic politics. The question now is whether Truss will shift from the bravado of the campaign trail to serious diplomacy.

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[See also: “Special, but not exclusive”: will US/UK relations be damaged by Liz Truss?]

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