New York – British Prime Minister Liz Truss started her first visit to the US as British leader, acknowledging that a UK-US free trade agreement will not happen for many years.
Truss said a transatlantic deal was not one of her priorities – a sharp contrast to the positions of her predecessors, Conservative Prime Ministers Boris Johnson and Theresa May. Both have cited the promise of a deal with the world’s largest economy as one of the main incentives for Britain’s exit from the European Union.
“There is (no) any negotiations with the U.S. at the moment, and I don’t expect those talks to start in the short to medium term,” Truss told reporters on a plane to New York. Landed on Tuesday for the UN General Assembly.
Truss said she was more focused on joining the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership and securing trade deals with India and the Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
“These are our trade priorities,” she said.
Truss’ downbeat assessment of transatlantic trade comes ahead of her first one-on-one meeting with President Joe Biden since taking office two weeks ago. The two leaders are scheduled to meet on the sidelines of a United Nations meeting in New York on Wednesday. Both were among dozens of world leaders who attended Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral in London on Monday.
Truss said her priorities for the meeting with Biden were “to make sure we can counter (respond) to Russian aggression together” and that “we are not strategically dependent on dictatorships.”
“I want to work with our allies, like the United States, like France, the European Union, the Baltic states, Poland, to meet the challenges we face from Russian aggression,” she said. “That should be our top priority.”
That brings Britain broadly in line with Biden’s tough stance on Russia and China, but the trade standoff has sidelined the oft-touted “special relationship” between the U.K. and the U.S.
Proponents of Brexit say one of the main benefits of leaving the European Union and its vast free market of nearly a billion people is the opportunity for Britain to strike new trade deals around the world.
UK-EU trade talks kicked off with much fanfare shortly after Britain left the bloc in 2020, but stalled amid growing U.S. government concerns about the impact of Brexit, particularly on Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that borders an EU member state, and Brexit has brought new customs checks and paperwork for Northern Irish trade, a problem that has escalated into a political crisis in Belfast’s decentralised government.
In response, Britain announced plans to suspend inspections and tear up part of its Brexit treaty with the EU — a move that angered the bloc and shocked Washington. Biden has warned that neither side should do anything to undermine the 1998 Good Friday agreement, a cornerstone of the Northern Ireland peace process.
Truss said she wanted a deal with the EU, but if it failed, she would go ahead and revise the treaty. She has said the situation cannot be allowed to “drift”.
With hopes of a UK-US deal dashed, the UK has resorted to signing trade deals with various US states. So far, it has signed deals with Indiana and North Carolina.
Truss campaigned for Conservative leadership, promising to shake up the UK economy by cutting taxes, cutting regulations and attracting more investment in Britain, but the start of her term was largely dominated by the death and commemorations of Queen Elizabeth II, which made Terra Sri Lanka’s political plans become reality suspended during a 10-day national mourning period.
The Ukraine war will be the overriding message of Truss’ first speech at the United Nations as British leader on Wednesday, urging more support for Kyiv and calling on countries to stop buying Russian oil and gas.
After the US, the UK has been one of the largest donors of military and civilian aid to Ukraine. Truss wants to reassure allies that she will maintain the unwavering support that Johnson has shown. She will pledge that by 2023 the UK will “match or exceed” the 2.3 billion pounds ($2.7 billion) in military aid to Ukraine this year.