Friend or foe: what the world’s capitals think of Liz

Friend or foe: what the world’s capitals think of Liz
Friend or foe: what the world’s capitals think of Liz

The likely next prime minister of Great Britain is causing mixed reactions abroad, from dislike in Moscow to irritation in France to positivity in Ukraine, writes “Guardian”.

Liz Truss has caused an uproar by questioning whether French President Emmanuel Macron is a trusted ally and pursuing a policy on Northern Ireland that has troubled the White House.

If she becomes prime minister on September 5, she will come to the top of the international stage at a difficult time, with baggage that will not serve her well.

Challenges will come thick and fast. On the war in Ukraine, the global energy crisis and the climate crisis, the world is looking to the major economies, one of which remains Britain, for leadership.

Weeks after arriving at Downing Street, Truss will address the UN General Assembly in New York, then travel to Bali in November for the G20 meeting of the world’s leading 20 economies.

From Brussels and Beijing to Kyiv, Washington to Paris and Moscow, here’s how the world’s major capitals view the front-runner to succeed Boris Johnson.

USA

The Biden administration is aware that Liz Truss is not an ideological friend and that she has carefully cultivated ties with Republicans, but in terms of US foreign policy priorities, confronting and containing China and Russia, there is confidence in Washington that she will be a reliable ally.

Multinational efforts to arm Ukraine and AUCUS, the trilateral security pact in the Pacific that also includes Australia, have become the key arenas where the transatlantic alliance is being tested. The UK is second only to the US as a supplier of arms to Ukraine, and the administration hopes that support will be maintained and even increased under Truss.

There was also praise for her tough stance on Taiwan and her vocal support for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit this month.

The friction in the supposed special relationship will remain Brexit and its impact on Ireland’s Good Friday Agreement, and for that matter there are fears in Washington that things will get worse under Truss, who particularly irked the White House with her statement on May 17 that the government would pushed ahead with legislation on the Northern Ireland Protocol, rewriting parts of the Brexit divorce deal in a way deemed to be in breach of international law. There will be strong pressure from the US on the Truss government to compromise with the EU.

European Union

There is no lack of cynicism in Brussels. The need for political posturing during a leadership campaign is well understood. The confrontational stance taken by Liz Truss on the future of the Northern Ireland protocol came as Boris Johnson’s Downing Street position began to look vulnerable. Her bellicose stance is well received by those circles among conservatives who believe that shouting is the best way to communicate with inflexible Europeans who seem to understand otherwise.

If this is a short-term tactic, then perhaps Truss may soften once she is settled in Downing Street. After all, Truss appears to have taken a more pragmatic approach than David Frost when he first inherited responsibility for post-Brexit issues. The Northern Ireland bill, which breaks up the current agreements, will be debated in the House of Lords for months, leaving time for a compromise.

However, this is the optimistic analysis. Those who fear further rifts point to the suggestion that Frost, who has not always been inclined to compromise, looks set to take a prominent role in the Truss government. This is not considered a good omen. A critical moment will be on September 15, when the government will have to respond to the EU’s legal action regarding the alleged failure to implement the protocol.

France

Until last week, Liz Truss was best known in Paris as the main defender of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill. Her remarks that “the jury is still out” on whether French President Emmanuel Macron is “friend or foe” angered observers.

Relations between the two sides of the Channel are at a post-Brexit low and have been further strained by bilateral disputes over the passage of migrants and refugees, fishing licenses and the AUCUS security pact. Paris no longer believes that London will keep its word, while London believes that Paris is only interested in punishing it for leaving the EU.

Hopes for a thaw after Boris Johnson’s departure now seem futile. Macron rebuked Truss without naming her, saying the UK was a friendly nation to France “independently and sometimes despite its leaders and their little mistakes”.

Nathalie Loiseau, a former minister for European affairs, said Truss’s comments showed neither the leadership nor the statesmanship expected of a British prime minister, while Sylvie Berman, the former French ambassador in London, said Truss should be judged on her actions, but her “positions indicate a likelihood” that relations will deteriorate.

Ukraine

Liz Truss would meet almost all requirements for Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s government when it comes to an ideal successor to Boris Johnson. Describing herself as a “freedom fighter”, she vowed that the president of Ukraine would be the first foreign leader she would call from Downing Street.

However, the foreign secretary may have fallen into the trap that even Johnson suggested was unreasonable, namely being “more Ukrainian than the Ukrainians”. The public position of Ukrainian officials involved in previous failed peace talks with Moscow was that Russian troops should withdraw to their positions from 23 February. But Truss also went a bit further by insisting that Russia should be kicked out of Crimea, which it illegally annexed in 2014. This would obviously be a dream scenario for Kyiv, but few in the Ukrainian government believe it is realistic. Placing it as a red line risks throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

If Kyiv were to list other concerns, it would be Truss’ volatile relationship with European governments over her insistence on scrapping a treaty-level agreement with the EU on Northern Ireland border arrangements. So she may not be as effective an ally if she has to persuade EU leaders to be tougher on the Kremlin.

Russia

The Kremlin has carefully avoided any public statements about its preferences in the Conservative leadership race, although its distaste for Truss is barely disguised.

“Having regard to all the earlier statements, we of course hope that the future Prime Minister of the United Kingdom will be inclined to a more balanced rhetoric regarding our country once he takes this seat,” said Dmitry Peskov, the spokesman of Vladimir Putin.

But Russian propaganda made its disdain for Truss clear, portraying her as an inveterate Russophobe who one presenter called “a bad imitation of Margaret Thatcher”.

Almost a month after Kate McCann fainted during a televised debate, state television presenters continued to mock Truss’ shocked reaction, saying you could “call it a loss of face … That’s what subjects of the Crown will they must live”.

Both Truss and Rishi Sunak have made it clear that the election will have little effect on UK policy towards Russia or its invasion of Ukraine. Yet Truss has a history with Russia, most notably during an icy meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov just weeks before the war in Ukraine began.

Lavrov described their conversation as a dialogue between “dumb and deaf”. She is unlikely to receive a warmer reception than Putin as prime minister.

China

It’s no secret that Beijing is not a fan of Truss. Since she became foreign minister, the state-run Chinese press has called her a “radical populist” and described her China-related speeches as “insane.”

Beijing would certainly prefer a prime minister who is hands-on with China – even if it knows there is no prospect of a return to the golden era of bilateral relations.

In the Chinese press, descriptions of Truss as hawkish and irrational are common. Much attention was recently paid to Truss’ remark at an event in Birmingham that she would be prepared to use the UK’s nuclear arsenal if she became prime minister, even if it meant “global annihilation”.

However, Chinese officials were careful with direct remarks. In early August, Zheng Ziguan, China’s ambassador to the UK, said his government would work with “the new prime minister, whoever he is, to develop China-UK relations”.

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