Biden and Sunak meet in effort to rekindle U.S.-U.K. bond

President Joe Biden meets UK Prime Minister Rish Sunak April 12, 2023. Photo: videograb

WASHINGTON – President Biden will welcome British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to the White House on Thursday, June 8, as both leaders look to strengthen the “special relationship” between their countries after a period of chaos in the British political system.

Biden, who often touts his long-standing personal relationships with world leaders, has not gotten that from Britain, which has seen its Conservative Party leadership shaken by scandal and resignation. Biden has had little time to develop any sort of closeness with Sunak – unlike, say, his friendship with Emmanuel Macron of France or Justin Trudeau of Canada.

Britain’s flamboyant Boris Johnson resigned in September, ousted by his party as untrustworthy. Johnson’s successor, Liz Truss, lasted just 45 days in office, after she struggled to right the British economy, making her the shortest-serving prime minister in history.

Sunak so far has provided some stability, and Thursday’s meeting will be the fourth consecutive month in which he and Biden have met in person. But Sunak and his Conservative Party face a national election next year, and recent polling has them trailing the left-leaning Labour Party.

During his first trip to Washington as prime minister, Sunak is expected to discuss a range of issues with Biden including deepening economic ties, supporting Ukraine and tackling emerging technologies. Sunak has said he wants Britain to be an innovator and watchdog regarding artificial intelligence, and aides say he plans to propose to Biden that the United Kingdom lead global efforts to regulate AI ahead of a summit he is hosting on the topic in the fall.

Since Brexit, however, the United Kingdom’s influence on some global issues has waned, and the United States and the European Union have made moves to cooperate on artificial intelligence without the British. And while Johnson during his tenure focused on boosting U.S.-British trade, the two sides have not signaled that will be a major focus during Biden and Sunak’s meeting Thursday.

Still, Sunak’s visit is in large part about making the case that, despite Britain’s withdrawal from the E.U., enhanced economic cooperation between the United States and the United Kingdom is more critical than ever.

“Just as interoperability between our militaries has given us a battlefield advantage over our adversaries, greater economic interoperability will give us a crucial edge in the decades ahead,” Sunak said in a statement ahead of his trip.

Britain’s staunch support of Ukraine, making it the leading European country in offering military and other assistance, has given a boost to its strategic alliance with the United States. And following the destruction of a critical dam in southern Ukraine this week, Thursday’s meeting is likely to focus heavily on the ongoing war.

Biden and Sunak first met in San Diego in March, when they formally announced their plan to supply Australia with nuclear-powered submarines as part of an effort to counter China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific. In April, they were both in Belfast as Biden commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. They met again last month in Hiroshima, Japan, during a summit of the Group of Seven large democratic economies.

But all those were multilateral meetings, involving heads of state beyond Biden and Sunak. And so far, their relationship remains a far cry from the famed U.S.-U.K. political romances of the past, including those of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair or Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

Some British observers felt snubbed during Biden’s recent trip to Ireland, when he repeatedly highlighted his connection to the country and openly wondered why his ancestors ever left, but did not bother to stop in neighboring Britain. Then he skipped the coronation of King Charles III, sending the first lady in his place.

Sunak has yet to receive an invitation for a state dinner, after the leaders of both France and South Korea were feted with such events at the White House. Later this month, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, too, will travel to Washington for a state dinner.

White House officials play down the notion of any distance between the two leaders or their nations, noting that no American president has attended a British coronation (Dwight D. Eisenhower sent a delegation to Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in June 1953). Biden has accepted an invitation from King Charles for a state visit, which could come as soon as next month.

Sunak, 43, is seen as a steady leader in Britain, if not a massively popular one. A former Goldman Sachs banker and a technology expert, he received his MBA at Stanford University. Alongside his wife, Akshata Murty, who owns vast shares of her father’s India-based tech company, Infosys, the couple are among the richest in Britain.

When Biden and Sunak met in San Diego earlier this year, the president welcomed the British leader’s American ties, while also taking the opportunity to poke fun at his immense wealth.

“I want to welcome him back to California,” Biden said. “He’s a Stanford man, and he still has a home here in California. That’s why I’m being very nice to him – maybe he’ll invite me to his home here in California.”

Sunak arrived in Washington on Tuesday, June 6, night and is staying at the Blair House. He paid a visit to Arlington National Cemetery on Wednesday, followed by meetings on Capitol Hill with House and Senate leaders. He concluded the night by attending the Washington Nationals baseball game, but much to the British press’s chagrin, he did not throw out the first pitch.

Sunak was scheduled to have an official bilateral meeting with Biden in the Oval Office on Thursday, June 8, morning followed by a joint press conference in the East Room.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here