At the UN, Truss aims to show the UK can still lead on the world stage
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — British Prime Minister Liz Truss, a politician often compared to “Iron Lady” Margaret Thatcher, is presenting herself to the world as a leader of steel for tough times.
The new Prime Minister came to the United Nations to argue that in an increasingly volatile world, like-minded allies must unite against “those who seek to militarize the global economy”.
In her address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Wednesday, Ms. Truss will call on organizations like the Group of Seven industrialized nations to act as the economic equivalent of NATO, helping each other weather the economic shocks unleashed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“This is a watershed moment in British history, in the history of this organization and in the history of freedom,” Truss will say, according to excerpts released ahead of time by his office.
“The story of 2022 could have been about an authoritarian state rolling its tanks over the border of a peaceful neighbor and subjugating its people. Instead, it is the story of freedom fighting back … But it doesn’t have to be unique.
Two years after Britain appalled many of its allies by leaving the European Union, Truss wants to reassure the world that his country will be “a reliable, trustworthy and dynamic partner” for other democracies – from urgently, for Ukraine. She will pledge Britain’s “full” commitment to Ukraine’s fight against invasion, including an additional 2.3 billion pounds ($2.6 billion) in British military aid.
Truss plans to revise Britain’s security and foreign policy plan, which was updated last year, before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine upends global security. She also pledged to increase defense spending to 3% of gross domestic product, from its current level of just over 2%.
Truss also said en route to New York that Russia would only be freed from international sanctions if it paid a “reward” for its invasion. She did not elaborate, but US officials are considering whether assets seized from wealthy Russians could be used to fund Ukraine’s reconstruction.
It all adds up to a bold start for a leader in office for only two weeks. Truss won a Conservative Party leadership race earlier this month and was appointed prime minister by Queen Elizabeth II on September 6, just two days before the monarch died. Truss’ early days in office were shrouded in a period of national mourning, so the trip to the UN represents the start of his international goals and national agenda.
Truss is a deadpan speaker, so her speech is unlikely to contain the fireworks of her voluble predecessor Boris Johnson, who stunned his UNGA audience in 2019 with a tech speech that mentioned “chickens without terrifying limbs” and “pink-eyed Terminators of the future.”
It aims to capture the mood of a pivotal global moment, as Thatcher did in 1989, when she welcomed the Cold War thaw but issued a prescient warning about climate change. Thatcher said humans were not “the lords of all that we watch over”, but “creatures of the Lord, stewards of this planet, tasked today with preserving life itself”.
Or like Prime Minister Gordon Brown in 2009 warning that it would be “a failure of global accountability” if the world’s poorest countries did not participate in the global recovery from the Great Recession – a plea that has largely gone unheeded.
Before Truss delivers her speech, she will hold her first meeting as prime minister with President Joe Biden. The two leaders have different economic views, with Truss advocating a brand of low-tax, free-market policies derided by Democrats like Biden as “trickle down economics.”
The two countries’ common approach to Ukraine has bridged a transatlantic divide caused by Brexit. Truss’ hawkish statements about “China’s growing assertiveness” and calls for Western allies to reduce their reliance on Russian oil and gas are also consistent with the US leader’s views.
But Brexit, and its impact on the peace process in Northern Ireland, has driven a wedge in what both sides sentimentally call the “special relationship” between the UK and the EU.
Britain’s departure from the EU has meant new customs checks and new documents for trade in Northern Ireland, a part of the UK that shares a border with Ireland, a member of the EU. The issue has turned into a political crisis for the power-sharing government in Belfast, for which the UK and EU blame each other.
Britain has introduced legislation to tear up part of its Brexit treaty with the EU – a move that angered the bloc and alarmed Washington. Biden, proudly Irish and American, has warned that neither side should do anything to undermine the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, a cornerstone of the Northern Ireland peace process.
The concern over Northern Ireland within the US administration and Congress is one of the reasons why talks on a UK-US free trade deal – long held up by British Conservative politicians as one of the Brexit prizes – have stalled. Truss acknowledged on Monday that there was no prospect of such a deal “in the short or medium term”.
Truss told reporters aboard his plane that “my preference is for a negotiated settlement. … But what I will not allow is for this situation to drift.
Truss avoided stirring up the issue in meetings with French President Emmanuel Macron and others in New York. But Biden security adviser Jake Sullivan said it was on the agenda for the two leaders’ meeting on Wednesday.
Kim Darroch, former British ambassador to Washington, said Truss and Biden “see things in Ukraine the same way.”
“But that can only be part of the conversation when they meet in New York,” Darroch told British broadcaster LBC. “And Northern Ireland protocol will also be part of that. And I suspect (it will be) quite difficult.
London-based PA correspondent Jill Lawless is on assignment with the British Prime Minister to cover the UN General Assembly. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JillLawless
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