The Irish Times view on US-UK relations: tension at the top

Liz Truss’s hopes of good relations with the US will hinge on her ability to mend relationships with Dublin and the EU

In London and in Washington, the appointment of Liz Truss as British prime minister was accompanied by standard-issue declarations of faith in the “special relationship”, but the alliance is under strain. The two capitals share a similar outlook on Ukraine, where Truss and US president Joe Biden have backed large-scale funding and arms transfers for Kyiv as well as tough sanctions on the Putin regime. Downing Street’s hawkish approach to China under Boris Johnson, which is likely to continue under Truss, aligns with US interests, while ongoing cooperation on security and intelligence will persist.

But even before the first meeting of Truss and Biden, due to take place on the margins of the UN general assembly in New York this week, there are signs of tension. Truss admitted on Tuesday that there were no talks taking place on a US-UK trade deal. That deal was identified by Truss herself as her “main priority” when she became trade secretary in 2019, and her Brexiteer supporters have long said a bilateral deal, made possible by Brexit, would compensate for the costs of departure. Now, as prime minister, Truss accepts that a deal may not be on the cards for years.

As foreign secretary, Truss did not enjoy especially warm relations with the Biden administration. While her embrace of the Thatcherite legacy, in style if not necessarily in policy, has endeared her to some Republicans, her hardline stance on Brexit and her threat to tear up the Northern Ireland protocol have been a source of friction with the Democrats in Washington. Biden, a proud Irish-American, has made clear that there will be no appetite for a trade deal while any threat to the Belfast Agreement remains.

Truss has sent mixed signals on the protocol impasse. The Government in Dublin has said it sees diplomatic space for a breakthrough, but Truss’s willingness to walk back from her maximalist campaign positions and alienate her most hardline party allies by striking a compromise has yet to be tested. Ultimately, her government’s hopes of good relations with the US will hinge on her ability to mend relationships with Dublin and the EU.