President Macron and Rishi Sunak shake hands at UK-France summit
Rishi Sunak’s problem-solving attitude is helping to restore the special relationship but the “real test” will come when pushing for a UK-US trade deal, Tory MPs have told Express.co.uk. The Prime Minister’s latest trip to California comes as he looks to strengthen the UK’s reputation amid a politically turbulent few months following on from Boris Johnson and Liz Truss.
Sunak is set to appear in a primetime interview on US TV tonight where he will declare “Britain is back”.
It comes just days after he returned from successful meetings with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on the so-called Windsor Framework and French counterpart Emmanuel Macron on Channel crossing migrants.
However, some Conservative MPs appear reluctant to give Sunak their full support.
One MP told Express.co.uk: “I’m not sure AUKUS will press any reset buttons as its such an established thing and it was a Johnson deal. The real test for the special relationship has to be movement on a trade deal. There has never been any question of our security relationship with the US but clearly our trade relationship has become strained. The jury is out on whether Sunak has rekindled the special relationship.”
Taking aim at Joe Biden‘s administration, the MP added: “In my view, the special relationship will not be repaired until Biden is gone because Biden is clearly not in the same place as most other recent Presidents, Republicans or Democrats, in their love for the UK.”
A Johnson-loyalist echoed reservations about AUKUS, arguing it is a “continuation” of the former PM’s legacy in Ukraine.
They claimed: “It builds on from what Boris did in Ukraine post-Brexit and its a continuation of the independence we are showing now we are not apart of the European Union. Obviously, it’s quite clear that Boris led Europe’s response to Ukraine and that wouldn’t have happened if we had still have been in the EU but I think it’s another step along that road.”
A UK-US trade deal has long been seen as a major opportunity handed to Britain since the Brexit vote in 2016.
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‘Jury’s out!’ Rishi Sunak hailed for AUKUS but ‘real test’ could come on UK-US trade deal (Image: Getty)
Some Tory MPs have credited Boris Johnson with delivering the foundations for AUKUS. (Image: Getty)
An agreement between the two nations could increase trade by £15billion in the long term and boost UK workers’ wages by £1.8billion, Whitehall analysis has revealed.
Trade flows between the two nations have continued to hold firm post-Brexit, with total trade in goods and services between the UK and the US exceeding £260billion in the four quarters to the end of 2022’s third quarter.
However, Sunak has distanced himself from pursuing a UK-US trade deal since entering Number 10 last October.
The Prime Minister is not expected to press his US counterpart on agreeing to an Anglo-American accord while in San Diego.
Donald Trump‘s administration made such an agreement sound possible, with the 45th POTUS promising a “massive” trade deal in 2019.
Hopes of an agreement in the dying days of the Trump administration soon faded as a last-minute mini-deal was botched amid concerns about the impact on Airbus’s business in the UK.
But Sunak has said “good and constructive” progress is being made on the UK signing a bumper post-Brexit trade deal with Pacific nations as officials are on the verge of reaching an agreement in principle to accede to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
The UK first applied to join the £9trillion trade bloc in 2021 in a move considered to be part of its wider foreign policy shift towards the Indo-Pacific.
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The Prime Minister (right) sat down with NBC News’ Lester Holt (left). (Image: NBC News)
Despite criticism in some corners of the Conservative Party, Sunak supporters have lauded the Prime Minister’s visit and believe it shows the 42-year-old can go further than his predecessors in pushing for closer Anglo-American ties.
A Government source told Express.co.uk: “Every Prime Minister wants to revitalise the ‘special relationship’ and strengthen Britain’s position on the world stage but Rishi is showing it’s actually possible. These things obviously need sustained attention but that’s exactly what you’ll see from this Government.”
A senior minister added: “It’s a hat trick of international successes.”
AUKUS, which was initially spearheaded by Johnson 18 months ago, aims to deliver nuclear-powered submarines to Australia as part of a bid to counter China’s influence in the region.
It will also enable the UK and US to share secret reactor technology.
European Research Group chair Mark Francois was among those voicing warm words for the Prime Minister while Sunak was stateside.
He told Express.co.uk: “This is amazing news, both in terms of Western security against the growing threat of China, but is also fantastic news for our submarine building industry at Barrow-in-Furness. This decision is a powerful example of Global Britain, if not made flesh then made metal and shows our increasing role in the world, post-Brexit.”
The Prime Minister is not expected to press his US counterpart on agreeing to an UK-US deal (Image: Getty)
The Prime Minister’s meeting with Macron could also prove fruitful on tackling the migrant crisis. (Image: Getty)
Lichfield MP Michael Fabricant, who was a vocal Johnson-supporter and subsequently endorsed Penny Mordaunt, said: “AUKUS and the recent summit with President Macron show that the United Kingdom continues to be a major player on the world stage. Completion of the agreement on the Northern Irish border now opens the way for more constructive dialogue with the United States regarding trade. Rishi Sunak has shown himself to be a consummate negotiator, and his meetings in San Diego with President Biden could prove fruitful.”
A Sunak-supporting MP added: “He has shown himself as a problem solver but also someone prepared to make long term strategic investments of time and money.”
Support from so many notable Eurosceptic MPs will likely excite Number 10 as Sunak’s allies believe the so-called “four Bs” can produce a more positive story about his time in Downing Street.
Brexit, Biden, boats and the budget have reportedly been earmarked as the issues of major importance to the Prime Minister.
Sunak already made headway on Brexit and Biden as his Windsor Framework negotiations look to reduce the burden facing Northern Irish businesses while protecting the Good Friday Agreement.
The Prime Minister’s meeting with Macron could also prove fruitful in tackling the migrant crisis, with £470million set to be handed over to Paris in London’s latest crack down bid.
However, Sunak has been warned his wider small boat plan is unworkable as Labour claimed the legislation may not get through Parliament.
Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt will deliver the 2023 budget shortly after Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.
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