With division at home, UK’s Truss seeks to unfreeze EU relations

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LONDON — After an acrimonious divorce and years of bickering, the British government seems to want to reconcile with the European Union.

The country’s new prime minister, Liz Truss’ economic tax-cutting plans have her feuding at home with the financial markets, the opposition and chunks of her own conservative party. But abroad, European politicians and diplomats have noticed a marked softening in tone since Truss took over from Boris Johnson a month ago.

Truss and his ministers say they want to resolve a heated dispute with the European Union over post-Brexit trade rules. On Thursday, the British leader plans to travel to the Czech Republic for the first meeting of the European Political Community, an initiative of French President Emmanuel Macron.

A few weeks ago, British officials were quiet about the new forum, which includes all 27 EU member countries, aspiring members and the UK, the only nation to leave the bloc.

Now the government says Truss intends to play a leading role at the summit, where she will use a keynote address to urge unity against the “strategic challenges” revealed by the invasion. Ukraine by Russia – in particular Europe’s energy dependence on Russian oil and gas.

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said Britain was approaching the new group “with an open mind”.

“We want to find ways to work well with our neighbours, our partners and our friends in Europe,” he told the ruling Conservative Party’s annual conference this week.

The European Political Community has another benefit for post-Brexit Britain: it shows “there is more to Europe than the EU”, Cleverly said.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has put Brexit into perspective and brought Western allies closer together. The energy shortage and cost-of-living crisis triggered by the war presented British and European governments with more pressing problems to solve.

Truss’ office said she planned to tell the Prague summit that “Europe is facing its greatest crisis since World War II, and we have faced it with unity and determination.”

“We must continue to stand firm – to ensure that Ukraine wins this war, but also to face the strategic challenges it has exposed,” she plans to say in her speech.

The UK has also softened its tone – if not its stance – in the dispute with the EU over trade rules for Northern Ireland.

Arrangements for Northern Ireland – the only part of the UK that shares a border with an EU country – have so far been the most contentious issue in the UK-EU divorce. . Both sides have agreed to keep the Irish border free of customs posts and other checks because an open border is a key pillar of the peace process that ended decades of violence in Northern Ireland. Instead, some goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK are subject to checks.

This solution has turned into a political crisis for the power-sharing government in Belfast, with British Unionist politicians refusing to form a government with Irish nationalists because they see the checks as undermining Northern Ireland’s place. United Kingdom.

With talks between the UK and EU to resolve the issue stalled, Johnson’s government introduced legislation earlier this year to suspend checks and tear up part of its legally binding Brexit treaty. This unilateral decision led to legal action by the EU and the risk of an all-out trade war.

The Truss government has not abandoned this bill, which is making slow progress through Parliament. But Cleverly stressed his warm relationship with EU Brexit chief Maros Sefcovic, and negotiators from both sides held their first talks in months.

“I think there’s a recognition that it’s in our collective interest to get this result,” Cleverly said.

Even Tory lawmaker Steve Baker, a Brexit hardliner who helped frustrate former Prime Minister Theresa May’s attempts to forge a closer relationship with the EU, apologized and promised to “working extremely hard” to improve relationships.

“I and others have not always behaved in a way that encourages Ireland and the European Union to trust us to accept that they have legitimate interests, legitimate interests which we are prepared to respect” , Baker said.

European leaders are welcoming, but wary. They want the UK to drop both anti-treaty legislation and its insistence on removing the European Court of Justice’s role in overseeing the Brexit deal.

“We’ve had positive mood music before, but it’s slightly better,” said David Henig, a trade expert at the European Center for International Political Economy. “Coming to the (conservative) conference, where you wouldn’t expect her to come…it feels like there’s something there.”

“I’m not saying this is the start of long-term change yet,” Henig said. “But because of where it’s happening, I’m taking it a little more seriously this time around.”

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