Biden heads to UK for queen’s funeral, will meet Liz Truss

The UK has a new Prime Minister and a new monarch. How will relations with the US change?

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden traveled to Britain on Saturday to pay his respects to Queen Elizabeth II at a time of transition in US-British relations as both a new king and prime minister take up residence.

Prime Minister Liz Truss’ restrictive approach to Russia and China puts her on the same page as Biden. But the rise of Truss, 47, who once described the US-UK relationship as “special but not exclusive”, could mark a decidedly new chapter in the transatlantic partnership on trade and more.

RELATED: Meet Britain’s New Prime Minister: Liz Truss

Of major concern for Biden officials early in Truss’s premiership is their support for legislation that would destroy parts of the post-Brexit trade deal in Northern Ireland. Analysts say the move could plunge deep tensions between the UK and European Union and undermine peace in Northern Ireland. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the move would “do not create a favorable environment” for the framing of a long-awaited US-UK trade deal coveted by Truss and her Conservative Party.

“She has signaled that she is ready to hit the mattresses for this and that will create a rift not only between the UK and the EU but also between the UK and the US,” said Max Bergmann, director of the Europe programme at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington and a former senior State Department official in the Obama administration. “It’s one that will keep the White House up at night.”

Biden and Truss were scheduled to meet on Sunday, but the prime minister’s office said they would skip the weekend on Saturday, opting instead to meet at the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, though Truss still planned to meet with other world leaders world gathering in London for the royal funeral. The White House was just confirming the UN meeting as the President boarded Air Force One.

The two close allies are now in a period of political uncertainty on both sides of the Atlantic. Similar to his fellow seventy-year-old Biden, King Charles III. has faced questions from the public as to whether his age will limit his ability to faithfully discharge the monarch’s duties.

Charles, 73, and Biden, 79, discussed global cooperation on the climate crisis last year while both attending 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 summit in Cornwall.

Truss, like Biden, faces questions about whether she has what it takes to help a country plagued by stubborn inflation caused by the coronavirus pandemic and exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which Causing chaos in the global energy market.

Meanwhile, Britain – and the rest of Europe – is watching closely what the upcoming US midterm elections will bring for the Democratic American president, after taking office vowing “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 United Kingdom,” said Barbara A. Perry, director of studies for the President at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. She added: “We don’t know what’s going to happen in our midterms. We don’t know what will happen in 2024.”

Truss, a former accountant who was first elected to Parliament in 2010, had little to do with Biden. The US President called her earlier this month to congratulate her. As Secretary of State, Truss accompanied her predecessor Boris Johnson on a visit to the White House last year.

It has been more than 75 years since Winston Churchill declared there was a “special relationship” between the two nations, a notion that leaders on both sides have repeatedly reiterated. Still, there were stumbling blocks along the way.

Tony Blair has been scornfully branded George W. Bush’s “poodle” by British tabloids for supporting the 2003 American-led invasion of Iraq. David Cameron and Barack Obama had a “bromance,” but Obama was also frustrated with Britain’s defense spending and Britain’s handling of Libya after the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan forged a close alliance in the middle of the Cold War, with the prime minister once telling students the Republican president’s “really good sense of humor” helped their relationship. But there were also difficulties, for example when Thatcher and members of her cabinet resented the Reagan administration’s initial neutrality in 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 rewriting parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol. The deal was part of the UK’s exit from the EU in 2020, intended to avoid a hard north-south border with Ireland that could disrupt Northern Ireland’s fragile peace.

Now, in the first few weeks of Truss’ tenure, officials in the Biden administration are carefully measuring the new British leader. Analysts say there are some fears in the government that undercutting Northern Ireland’s protocol could plunge Europe into trade turmoil at a moment when Biden is working mightily to keep the West united in confronting Russia over its aggression against Ukraine.

“Brexit could become a problem again – the problem that can make it difficult for all of Europe to work together at a time when it is crucial for Europe to work together,” Bergmann said. “If you are the Biden administration, this is not the time for bickering between your two closest partners.”

Certainly there was friction between Biden and Johnson, who had a cordial relationship with former President Donald Trump.

As a candidate, Biden had spoken out strongly against Brexit and expressed great concern about the future of Northern Ireland. Biden even once ridiculed Johnson as a “physical and emotional clone” of Trump.

Johnson has worked hard to overcome this impression, emphasizing his commonalities with Biden on climate change, support for international institutions and, most importantly, Britain being an early and generous member of the US-led alliance that Ukraine provides economic and military aid in the aftermath of the Russian invasion.

The former prime minister also unsuccessfully pushed Biden into his government to start negotiations for a new US-UK trade deal as Britain regained control of its national trade policy weeks before Biden took office and after a post-Brexit transition period ended.

But Biden focused largely on his domestic to-do list early in his presidency — committing trillions in spending on coronavirus relief, infrastructure and more — and putting trade deal negotiations on hold.

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 tough bilateral talks, but it is nonetheless a moment when the two leaders are beginning to take stock.

Truss, who succeeded Johnson after being forced to resign amid a series of scandals, is lagging behind in opinion polls. She also won her pick by a narrower margin than her recent predecessors and is aiming for an early win.

“I think if I were (Truss) I would want recognition of the leading role that Britain has played in supporting Ukraine far more than any other country outside of the United States,” said Abrams, who has held senior positions in the United States national security and foreign policy has worked administrations of Trump, George W. Bush and Reagan. “And I think I want a positive economic message to be sent to the British people, which could be that Free Trade Agreement negotiations start.” Biden heads to UK for queen’s funeral, will meet Liz Truss

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