Liz Truss has sought to reassure US president Joe Biden on her plan for the Northern Ireland Protocol, after US officials expressed concerns about the potential risks to the Good Friday peace agreement.
Mr Biden told Ms Truss he is “looking forward to hearing what’s on your mind”, amid the ongoing row with the EU over her plan to unilaterally override protocol checks with highly-controversial legislation.
In remarks as they sat down for bilateral talks, the prime minister told the president she would explain how “we make sure” the Good Friday Agreement is “upheld into the future”.
Ms Truss is pushing ahead with the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which senior figures in Brussels, Dublin and Washington have warned will breach international law by ditching elements of the Brexit agreement.
Mr Biden and Ms Truss only had a “very short discussion” about the protocol controversy during a 75-minute meeting, according to Downing Street.
The PM’s official spokesperson said Ukraine “dominated” the wide-ranging conversation. He said the pair spoke about the protocol after one of the president’s team brought it up and said Mr Biden did not seek reassurances.
The spokesperson characterised the tone of the meeting as “warm”, and said that they did not discuss a UK-US trade deal – though Ms Truss has conceded earlier this week that a deal is unlikely in the years ahead.
A White House spokesperson said: “They also affirmed their shared commitment to protecting the gains of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement.”
It comes as British diplomats eye a first state visit for the US president linked to the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement in 2023.
King Charles III would host Mr Biden around the time of a possible European trip for celebrations of the historic 1998 peace deal that helped end 30 years of violence in Northern Ireland, according to diplomatic sources.
In remarks to camera, Mr Biden congratulated the Tory leader on becoming PM and added: “I look forward to working closely with you – you’re our closest ally in the world and there’s a lot we can continue to do together.”
Ms Truss told the president the UK and the US are “steadfast allies” as she thanked him for his support following the death of the Queen.
US national security adviser Jake Sullivan had claimed prior to talks that Mr Biden would discuss protocol concerns “in some detail” with Ms Truss.
Mr Sullivan told reporters the president “will encourage the UK and the EU to work out an effective outcome that ensures there is no threat to the fundamental principles of the Good Friday Agreement”.
British ambassador to Washington Dame Karen Pierce said Ms Truss would have to explain the impact of her plan to the president. “I think the president and the Americans have some understanding that trade disruption is not helpful in the context of bringing communities together,” she told broadcasters.
Mr Biden and Ms Truss were meeting after the president sent a tweet just as the PM was discussing her economic policy, which said he was “sick and tired of trickle-down economics”.
The comments underlined the differences between the two leaders’ stances, but No 10 said it was “ludicrous” to suggest Mr Biden was criticising UK policy.
On Ukraine, both leaders agreed that Russian president Vladimir Putin’s actions highlight the need for allies to continue their economic and military support to Ukraine, according to No 10.
The White House said the leaders vowed to continue coordination on global challenges, “including support for Ukraine as it defends itself against Russian aggression, addressing challenges posed by China, and securing sustainable and affordable energy supplies”.
Ms Truss and EU Commission Ursula von der Leyen’s also discussed the protocol at a meeting without officials present, Downing Street said. The PM’s official spokesperson said the “one-to-one” session lasted more than half an hour.