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Business News/ Specials / U.K. to U.S.: We’re Your Top Military Ally, Now Help Our Economy

U.K. to U.S.: We’re Your Top Military Ally, Now Help Our Economy


U.K. leader Sunak hopes visit to Washington will lead to greater economic ties for post-Brexit Britain

President Biden and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak are expected to discuss issues including how best to support Ukraine and how to regulate artificial intelligence. Premium
President Biden and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak are expected to discuss issues including how best to support Ukraine and how to regulate artificial intelligence.

President Biden will meet with the U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in Washington on Thursday as the British leader looks to leverage his country’s status as the U.S.’s premier security ally to deepen economic cooperation between the two nations.

The visit by the British leader, which is set to include a joint press conference in the Rose Garden, represents White House recognition of the U.K’s robust support for Ukraine, Sunak’s willingness to toe the U.S. line on China, and recent U.K. moves to end its war of words with the European Union in the wake of Brexit, a rapprochement Washington hopes will cement western unity in the face of Russian aggression.

For Sunak, the relationship with Washington is crucial. Ever since Britain quit the European Union in 2020, forging a tight diplomatic relationship with the U.S. has been a key aim of successive U.K. leaders as they try to extend the country’s influence beyond the EU to access markets across the globe. While Britain has cemented its position as a key military ally, it is now hoping to reinforce what British officials call economic security with the U.S. on areas such as energy and supply chains.

“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 in a statement.

The two leaders are expected to discuss a range of issues including how best to regulate artificial intelligence and support for Ukraine, officials say. During his visit to the White House, Sunak is expected to advocate for U.S. trade concessions, including allowing British electric-vehicle exports to qualify for U.S. tax breaks under the Inflation Reduction Act, officials said, although no deals are expected.

This week’s trip, which includes plans to watch a baseball game, masks an awkward economic truth. Britain risks losing out as a subsidy battle rages between the U.S., the EU and China, who are all pouring billions of dollars into bolstering domestic renewable-energy industries and other future technologies.

Britain has neither the balance sheet nor the political appetite to follow suit, analysts say.

British officials have warned that the Inflation Reduction Act’s $369 billion in incentives and funding for clean energy could unintentionally harm smaller U.S. allies. U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt recently called the act distortive of global markets. The U.K. government has pledged to outline its own more targeted industrial strategy in the fall.

“Working with the U.S. on that is critical," says Leslie Vinjamuri, director of the U.S. and Americas Programme at the Chatham House think tank. “If you can’t beat them, join them."

After Brexit, the British government regained the ability to negotiate its own trade deals. Signing a trade pact with the U.S. was touted as a prize, but the Biden administration shut the idea down. Instead the U.K. government is pursuing cooperation agreements with individual U.S. states, such as a deal concluded last year with Indiana.

Biden and Sunak’s relationship has run hot and cold. When Sunak was appointed prime minister last October, Biden mispronounced his name. In May, Biden described a trip to Ireland and Northern Ireland the month prior, as to make sure “the Brits didn’t screw around" with the Good Friday Agreement, which secured peace on the island after years of sectarian tension.

There was also lingering distrust following what U.S. officials saw as the British government’s chaotic handling of Brexit.

However, the war in Ukraine has proved the U.K.’s usefulness as an ally. As the first country to provide Ukraine with tanks and long-range missiles, Britain has led the way on military assistance and opened the path for other Western allies, including the U.S., to follow suit.

“As one of Ukraine’s staunchest supporters, the U.K. would have a critical role to play in any long-term security framework," said Eric Ciaramella, a former White House official and senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “In many ways, the U.K. has consistently been ahead of the curve on this issue," he added.

“The Brits have been right there, literally at the fore in terms of helping Ukraine for the last 15 months," said White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby.

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