After royal funeral, new UK leader Truss makes debut at UN
LONDON (AP) — Liz Truss is going from the solemnity of a royal funeral to the maelstrom of international politics, and a crucial meeting with President Joe Biden.
Britain’s prime minister flew to New York on Monday for the United Nations General Assembly, coming straight from the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, whose death and commemoration have dominated the start of the new leader’s term.
Truss won a Conservative Party leadership contest early this month and was appointed prime minister by the queen on Sept. 6, just two days before the monarch died.
The war in Ukraine will be foremost in Truss’s message when she makes her debut speech to the U.N. as British leader on Wednesday, urging more support for Kyiv and calling on nations to stop buying Russian oil and gas.
“Too many lives — in Ukraine, in Europe and around the world — are being manipulated by a dependence on Russian energy,” Truss said in a statement released by her office. She accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of dooming “millions of people in Europe to a colder and more difficult winter” by squeezing gas supplies.
Britain imports little oil and gas from Russia compared to other European nations, but has been hit by soaring global energy prices, spurring a cost-of-living crisis that is Truss’ most pressing domestic challenge.
She has announced plans to expand North Sea oil and gas drilling and lift a ban on fracking to reduce U.K. dependence on imported fuel. Environmentalists accuse her of backpedaling on predecessor Boris Johnson’s firm commitment to reduce U.K. carbon emissions to net zero by 2050.
Spokesman Max Blain insisted that Truss “is committed to net zero,” but that getting there “does involve using transition fuels like oil and gas.”
The U.K. has been one of the biggest contributors after the U.S. of military and civilian aid to Ukraine, and Truss wants to reassure allies that she’ll maintain the staunch support shown by Johnson. She will promise that in 2023 Britain will “match or exceed” the 2.3 billion pounds ($2.7 billion) in military aid given to Ukraine this year.
World leaders are heading to U.N. headquarters in New York this week for a fully in-person general assembly after two years of virtual and hybrid summits. Many saw each other in London on Sunday and Monday at the queen’s funeral, a gathering of royalty and political power attended by Biden and other heads of state from around the world.
Truss is not an international unknown — she was the U.K. foreign secretary for a year under Johnson, and international trade minister before that. Now she is seeking to make an impression in her own right, and to smooth over feathers ruffled by the erratic Johnson. The former U.K. prime minister gave a memorably odd speech to the General Assembly in 2019, a riff on the perils and promise of technology that mentioned “terrifying limbless chickens” and “pink-eyed Terminators from the future.”
Truss is a more sober figure, but she shares Johnson’s commitment to Brexit — Britain’s departure from the European Union — and the country’s sometimes combative attitude to the EU. That stance that means she may struggle to forge warm ties with Biden.
Truss and the U.S. president are to meet Wednesday in New York, after scraping a planned one-on-one meeting in London before the queen’s funeral.
Biden has expressed concerns about the impact of Britain’s departure from the EU on peace in Northern Ireland, part of the U.K. that shares a border with EU member Ireland.
Brexit has brought new customs checks and paperwork for Northern Ireland trade, an issue that has spiraled into a political crisis for the power-sharing government in Belfast.
In response, Johnson’s Conservative government announced plans to suspend the checks and rip up part of its Brexit treaty with the EU — a move that angered the bloc and alarmed Washington. Biden has warned that no side should do anything to undermine the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, the cornerstone of Northern Ireland’s peace process.
Truss says she wants to reach agreement with the EU, but will push ahead with rewriting the treaty if that fails, a step that could spiral into a trade war between Britain and its biggest trading partner.
“We do want to achieve a negotiated solution and that is our focus,” said Blain, her spokesman. “But as you know, we are in parallel progressing with the bill because the U.K.’s position remains that the status quo is damaging the Good Friday Agreement, and we need to come up with a resolution.”
Kim Darroch, a former British ambassador to Washington, said Biden and Truss would aim for cordial ties, because “it’s important to any American president to be seen to be having good relations with the British prime minister. That’s what the American public expects.”
“But I doubt very much — we’ll see — whether the Biden-Truss bilateral in New York is going to lead to a breakthrough on Northern Ireland,” he told the BBC.