DOWNING Street has hailed France as a “long-time ally” and insisted relations with him are good in a bid to defuse tensions ahead of Liz Truss meeting Emmanuel Macron today.
The PM infamously said the “jury was out” when asked if the French president had been a “friend or foe” of the UK during last month’s Tory leadership race.
To the same question, her rival Rishi Sunak unhesitatingly replied “girlfriend”.
In her first foreign trip as Prime Minister, Ms Truss will be in New York amid ongoing tensions over Brexit with Mr Macron and US President Joe Biden.
Her visit to the annual United Nations General Assembly today will also include a meeting with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
The Prime Minister is to meet Mr Biden for a “full bilateral talk” tomorrow after a smaller meeting on the sidelines of the Queen’s funeral was canceled.
However, she will not get the White House visit that Boris Johnson enjoyed as Prime Minister when he went to the UN General Assembly last year.
Ms Truss hopes the focus of the next two days will be on energy security and fighting Russia’s war in Ukraine, but clashes over the Northern Ireland Protocol are bound to erupt.
Mr Biden, who is proud of his Irish heritage, has raised concerns about Brexit’s threat to the peace process and downplayed the chances of Britain striking a free trade deal if it carries out its threat to tear up the protocol.
Mr Macron has long been a critic of Brexit and has urged the UK to honor its commitments on Northern Ireland and fishing rights.
Last week, the UK refused to reintroduce physical controls in Northern Ireland, which it had unilaterally suspended despite EU legal action against it.
Brussels could now refer the case to the European Court of Justice, which could fine the UK for failing to fully implement the Protocol, the post-Brexit trade deal that creates a de facto trade border in the Irish Sea.
Ahead of the PM’s visit to the States, her spokesman emphatically described France as a “long-time ally” and stressed that relations between London and Paris and with the EU were “good”.
Asked if meeting with Mr Macron was uncomfortable, the spokesman said: “No, the Prime Minister wants to develop a constructive relationship with President Macron.”
The UK, however, will proceed with the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol bill, which the EU and others say will break international law.
Ms Truss will also meet Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Spain’s Pedro Sanchez and Israel’s Yair Lapid as she warns that now is not the time to “take your foot off the gas” to oppose Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Iraq to face Ukraine.
Their spokesman said: “We will remain committed to restoring Ukraine’s sovereignty and self-determination because this is not just Ukraine’s struggle, the whole world suffers when a regime like Putin’s is allowed to bully its neighbors and to blackmail.”
The prime minister will seek to use the visit to “stimulate further international action to end energy dependency on Russia and ensure the world never gets into this situation again”.
Their spokesman added: “In the short term, that means increasing supplies of gas and other energy sources, and in the long term, that means democracies using our shared natural, technological, and corporate resources to develop alternative energy sources.”
Before Ms Truss leaves the States on Wednesday night, she will say in her summit speech that under her leadership the UK will be “an active defender of our democratic values” and stand with allies against authoritarianism.
The journey begins for the new Prime Minister with a hectic few days of political activity, with details on how businesses are being helped through the energy crisis and a key NHS announcement this week ahead of Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-budget on Friday .