UK’s Sunak Seeks Stronger Economic Ties with U.S. on Washington Trip

Niall Carson/Pool via REUTERS
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak holds a huddle with political journalists on board a government plane as he heads to Washington, U.S., June 6, 2023.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Britain wants to put its economic ties with the United States on the same footing as the two countries’ defence and security cooperation to help both counter global threats, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will tell President Joe Biden this week.

Having left the European Union, Britain is seeking to further align itself with Washington to help navigate a more volatile world driven by the rise of China, the aggression of Russia and the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

On the trip, Sunak was to meet with Biden and U.S. business leaders, along with members of the U.S. Congress, arguing that the existing ties between the two countries mean they are better placed to take on the new challenges together.

“They are indisputably our closest partner when it comes to trade, when it comes to defence and security cooperation, diplomatic alliance, and tomorrow I’ll be talking about strengthening that economic cooperation,” Sunak told the BBC after arriving in Washington on Wednesday.

Sunak said he would also discuss AI regulation with Biden.

“My job is to make sure that we as a country are protected and I’m confident actually that we can put the guardrails in place,” he said in an interview with ITV. “I think that the UK can play a leading role in shaping that conversation.”

Sunak visited the U.S. Capitol for meetings Wednesday afternoon including with Republican House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy and the Senate’s Democratic and Republican leaders, Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell.

Coinciding with his visit, the chairs of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, Republican Representative Chris Smith and Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley, wrote to Sunak asking him to work with the Biden administration on Hong Kong policy and to make the release of jailed media tycoon Jimmy Lai and other activists a priority.

The ability to sign a full free trade deal with the United States was once seen by those who backed Brexit as its biggest economic prize, but a reluctance by Washington to consider such a move has left successive governments seeking agreement on individual areas instead.

Sunak’s government has also been under pressure to respond after Biden launched $369 billion of subsidies to drive the development of electric vehicles and other clean technologies, a policy that prompted the EU to set out its own industrial plan.

Sunak said a new alliance would help London and Washington to protect supply chains and navigate a global economy where new powers are “manipulating global markets, withholding crucial resources and trying to establish a stranglehold over the industries that will define our future.”