After royal funeral, new British leader Truss makes UN debut

Published by
Peter Kavinsky

Liz Truss goes from the solemnity of a royal funeral to the whirlwind of international politics and a pivotal meeting with President Joe Biden.

The British prime minister flew to New York on Monday for the United Nations General Assembly, straight from the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, whose death and commemoration dominated the start of the new leader’s term.

Truss won a Conservative Party leadership contest earlier this month and was named prime minister by the queen on 6 September, just two days before the monarch’s death.

The war in Ukraine will be Truss’s main message as she delivers her debut speech to the UN as British leader on Wednesday, calling for more support for Kyiv and urging nations to stop buying Russian oil and gas.

“Many lives – in Ukraine, Europe and around the world – are being manipulated by dependence on Russian energy,” Truss said in a statement released by his office. She accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of condemning “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 rising global energy prices, triggering a cost-of-living crisis that is Truss’s most pressing domestic challenge.

It announced plans to expand oil and gas drilling in the North Sea and lift the fracking ban to reduce the UK’s dependence on imported fuel. Environmentalists accuse her of backtracking on predecessor Boris Johnson’s firm commitment to reducing the UK’s carbon emissions to net zero by 2050.

Spokesperson Max Blain insisted that Truss “is committed to net zero” but that getting there “involves using transitional fuels like oil and gas.”

The UK has been one of the biggest contributors after the US to military and civilian aid to Ukraine, and Truss wants to assure allies that she will maintain the steadfast support shown by Johnson. She will pledge that by 2023 Britain will “equal or exceed” the 2.3 billion pounds ($2.7 billion) in military aid given to Ukraine this year.

World leaders are heading to the UN Headquarters in New York this week for a fully face-to-face general assembly after two years of virtual and hybrid summits. Many found themselves 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 stranger – she was the UK’s Foreign Secretary for a year under Johnson and Minister for International Trade before that. Now she’s looking to make a good impression for herself and smooth out the erratic Johnson’s ruffled feathers. The former UK prime minister delivered a memorably awkward speech at the General Assembly in 2019, a riff on the dangers and promise of technology that mentioned “terrifying limbless chickens” and “pink-eyed terminators of the future”.

Truss is a more sober figure, but shares Johnson’s commitment to Brexit – Britain’s exit from the European Union – and the country’s sometimes combative attitude towards the EU. That stance means she may struggle to forge warm bonds with Biden.

Truss and the US president are due to meet on Wednesday in New York, after arranging a planned one-on-one meeting in London ahead of the Queen’s funeral.

Biden expressed concern about the impact of the UK’s departure from the EU on peace in Northern Ireland, the part of the UK that borders EU member Ireland.

Brexit has brought new customs checks and documents to Northern Ireland’s trade, an issue that has turned 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 warned that neither side should do anything to undermine the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, the cornerstone of Northern Ireland’s peace process.

Truss says he wants to reach a deal with the EU but will continue to rewrite the treaty if that fails, a step that could escalate into a trade war between Britain and its biggest trading partner.

“We want to reach a negotiated solution and that is our focus,” said Blain, his spokesman. I agree, and we need to come to a resolution.”

Kim Darroch, a former British ambassador to Washington, said Biden and Truss would seek cordial ties because “it is important for any American president to be seen as having good relations with the British prime minister. This is what the American public expects.”

“But I very much doubt – we will see – whether the Biden-Truss bilateral in New York will lead to a breakthrough in Northern Ireland,” he told the BBC.

Peter Kavinsky

Peter Kavinsky is the Executive Editor at cablefreetv.org

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