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PM makes some progress with Biden, but promised free trade deal with US is yet to materialise | Politics News

The prime minister leaves Washington with some progress on two of his goals on this trip: to get his foot in the door on the global response to the risks of artificial intelligence, and deepen economic ties with our biggest trading partner.

The announcement of the first global AI summit to discuss how the world might multilaterally mitigate risk in London is a win.

Mr Sunak wanted to use this visit to directly impress upon President Joe Biden that the UK has the knowhow to take a bigger lead in the regulation of AI, and this summit is a start in the bigger push to locate any global watchdog in London.

And from the language used by Mr Biden at the news conference, it looks like Mr Sunak succeeded.

The US president told his audience in the East Room of the White House: “We’re looking to Great Britain to help me in that effort to figure out a way through [the handling of AI].

“So we’re in full cooperation. Because there’s no one country we have greater faith in being able to negotiate this. We’re in lockstep.”

For a country that has been shut out of negotiations between the EU and US on regulatory frameworks, this would have been very welcome language.

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What did Rishi Sunak get out of his US trip?

Mr Sunak prides himself on his knowledge of AI and thinks it’s an area where he can stake ground for the UK.

He likes to share an essay with AI novices called Why AI Will Save The World by Marc Andreessen, which presents a bullish case of how artificial intelligence can enhance our lives.

But, as Mr Sunak told me in our interview this week, he is also very cognisant of the existential threat to humanity it poses if left unchecked, and needs grasping quickly given that AI is evolving faster than expected.

And this goes beyond just the PM’s personal interests – from a UK perspective, in a post-Brexit world where London no longer acts as the natural transatlantic bridge between Washington and Brussels, Mr Sunak is trying to stake a claim to leadership elsewhere.

The UK’s leadership on Ukraine, kickstarted by Boris Johnson and continued by Mr Sunak, has been noted, both on Capitol Hill and in the White House.

While Washington has size and scale, London, say UK officials, can demonstrate first-mover advantage, unencumbered by the EU.

What Mr Sunak wants to show is that the UK can be a nimble operator – and from his remarks at the news conference, President Biden looks like he could have bought in.

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Sunak warns against AI ‘scaremongering’

For there’s no doubt, after that scratchy period during the Johnson years and Truss days, that relations were strained.

Mr Sunak has remedied that: in the Oval Office on Thursday, the two leaders spent 40 minutes in a one-on-one meeting, and another 30 minutes in a more formal bilateral with advisers.

No 10 insiders tell me they were pleasantly surprised by Mr Biden’s warm language following those discussions in the news conference.

There is a feeling on the plane back to London that Mr Sunak landed his pitch to be a leader in AI regulation with the US.

Time will tell whether the UK’s hosting of a global conference on mitigating AI risks in the autumn will evolve into the UK hosting the first AI global regulator, something the PM is pushing for.

From a No 10 perspective, this is an administration that is getting wins on the international stage, be it the Windsor Framework with Brussels or the Hiroshima accord with Japan.

And from a prime ministerial perspective, the foreign policy progress Mr Sunak’s making is perhaps the most successful aspect of his first six months in No 10.

This is a leader who seems genuinely comfortable on the global stage and seems to build genuine rapport with allies from the EU’s Ursula von der Leyen to Mr Biden.

As for the deepening of economic ties between our two nations, the announcement of the Atlantic Declaration to strengthen the special relationship was a further sign that allies are trying to cut China out of supply chains amid fears of Beijing’s growing aggression.

But the hard reality is that the free trade deal hailed as a big Brexit win for the British people had failed to materialise after Mr Biden, perhaps constrained by congressional constraints, put that trade deal in the deep freeze.

Read more:
PM blames pandemic and war for failure to strike US trade deal
Sunak criticises Starmer over ‘bizarre’ North Sea oil and gas ban

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Mr Sunak has long said that he wants to focus on the quality rather than speed when it comes to trade deals (the US-UK deal will be looked at again in 2025), but the hard facts are that the Conservatives promised a free trade deal with the US by the end of 2022, and that deal has failed it materialise.

It is a broken promise.

When I asked the PM in Washington on Thursday to acknowledge this government had failed on this election pledge on Thursday, Mr Sunak said the “macroeconomic situation had evolved” and insisted that the UK-US economic partnership was still strong and reflected new threats.

“Since [that pledge] then we’ve had a pandemic. We’ve had a war in Ukraine and that has changed the macroeconomic situation,” he said.

“And the right response to that is to ensure that we’re focusing our engagement economically on the things that will make the most difference to the British people.

“The real challenge we face are the threats to our economic security. And actually what I’ll be talking to President Biden about today is how can the UK and the US work together to ensure that security for our citizens? I think that’s the thing that we should be focusing on right now.”

No trade deal, but for this PM, the special relationship looks in good shape.

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US-UK relationship ‘in real good shape’

An Atlantic Declaration that maps out future cooperation on issues such as artificial intelligence, key supply chains and defence manufacturing is a result.

On politics and policy, the special relationship between not just the US, but the UK on a wider global stage is looking in better shape than it’s been for a good few years.

It might not be a vote winner for Mr Sunak come the next general election, but he comes across as the prime minister who believes this is the right thing to do for Britain’s post Brexit relevance and prosperity.

He is a leader who is winning points on the world stage, but still desperately behind in the polls.

Joe Biden set to arrive in Northern Ireland to mark 25 years of the Good Friday Agreement | UK News

US President Joe Biden says his trip to the island of Ireland will underscore the United States’ commitment to peace and prosperity.  

He is due to arrive in Belfast later, where he’ll be met by the UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

The pair will hold a bilateral meeting on Wednesday, after which President Biden will deliver remarks commemorating the Good Friday Agreement at Ulster University.

The US president is also expected to meet representatives from all five of Northern Ireland’s main political parties.

Ahead of his trip, he tweeted: “25 years ago, Northern Ireland’s leaders chose peace.

“The Belfast/Good Friday Agreement ended decades of violence and brought stability.

“I look forward to marking the anniversary in Belfast, underscoring the US commitment to preserving peace and encouraging prosperity.”

The president will arrive in Northern Ireland the day after petrol bombs were thrown at a police vehicle in Londonderry during an Easter parade.

Addressing the issue of violence, White House spokesman John Kirby told a press briefing: “As for security concerns, you know we don’t ever talk about security requirements of protecting the president but the president is more than comfortable making this trip and he’s very excited to do it.”

Following Wednesday’s scheduled events in Belfast, President Biden will travel south to Ireland, where he’ll hold meetings with the Irish President Michael Higgins and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

He’s due to address a joint session of the Irish parliament and will attend a banquet dinner in Dublin Castle.

The president’s attendance at events to mark the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement reflects the US’ influence in helping to underpin peace in Northern Ireland.

In Washington DC, he is recognised as a politician who worked towards a breakthrough long before it came 25 years ago.

Read more:
Good Friday Agreement 25 years on – how it led to peace, hope and paralysis

Stella O’Leary, chair of the Irish-American lobby group, was appointed by President Biden in 2022 to be US observer to the International Fund for Ireland. It has been used over decades to help promote peace and co-existence in Northern Ireland.

Ms O’Leary told Sky News: “The United States has given half a billion dollars to that fund to maintain the peace. It was in existence from 1986 and it formed the foundation of the peace agreement. So it’s been a long time and Joe Biden was in there from the start.

“He facilitated the funding of the International Fund, with many others – it was a bipartisan effort.

“Ireland has a great debt to America for the role it’s played and he is a representative of that commitment.”

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Police vehicle attacked on Good Friday Agreement anniversary

Mr Biden’s four-day trip will be a combination of formal and family. A descendant of Irish immigrants to the United States, he will visit County Louth and County Mayo, from where his ancestors left for America in the 19th century.

He will deliver remarks at St. Muredach’s Cathedral in Ballina, County Mayo, to which his great-great-great-grandfather Edward Blewitt sold 27,000 bricks in 1827. The bricks were used to build the cathedral and their sale helped to fund Edward’s passage to the US with his family in 1851.

In Scranton, Pennsylvania, where his ancestors settled and where he spent the first 10 years of his life, the Irish-American community celebrates the achievements of one of their own.

Nearly a quarter of the city’s population have Irish blood. They include members of the Joyce School of Irish Dance, where we gauged the view on the local boy on the big stage.

Brigid King, 20, told Sky News: “It’s a very cool thing. I was raised very proud to be Irish, it was always a big thing in my family. So to have somebody in power who is Irish, very proud of where he came from, even though not being born in Ireland, is a very cool thing. He’s someone that shares the same passion as I do.”

Joe Biden to visit Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland | Politics News

Joe Biden will visit Northern Ireland following a formal invitation from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

The invitation was extended as the pair met for talks in San Diego to announce a nuclear submarine deal with Australia.

“It’s my intention to go to Northern Ireland and the Republic,” Mr Biden said as they met in Point Loma naval base.

Mr Sunak told the president: “I look forward to our conversations and also importantly, to invite you to Northern Ireland, which hopefully you will be able to do and so we can commemorate the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

“I know it’s something very special and personal to you. We’d love to have you over.”

Mr Biden said: “Twenty-five years? It seems like yesterday.”

Details of Mr Biden’s visit to Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are expected to be revealed soon.

The US president often highlights his Irish roots and has taken a keen interest in issues related to the agreement.

Mr Sunak revealed Mr Biden had also invited him to visit Washington DC in June.

Following the talks, he told reporters: “It’s great that we’re going to see each other a lot over the next few months.

“I was pleased to accept the president’s invitation to visit him in DC in June.”

Prime Minister Tony Blair (R) meets his Irish counterpart Bertie Ahern for crisis talks on the future of Northern Ireland February 3. Earlier in the evening, Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson had announced to the House of Commons that he was taking the power to suspend the Northern Ireland Assembly in the wake of the Irish Republican Army's failure to decommission any of its weaponry in line with the Good Friday Agreement. IW/ME
The GFA was signed by Tony Blair (right) and Bertie Ahern (taoiseach at the time)

What is the Good Friday Agreement?

The Good Friday Agreement (GFA) was signed with the aim to end the ongoing conflict in Northern Ireland at the time, known as the Troubles, which started in the late 1960s. The agreement was signed on 10 April 1998.

A new government was formed in Northern Ireland representing both sides in order to foster cooperation between the two communities.

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What is the Windsor Framework?

But Brexit rocked the political situation, with Northern Ireland being the only UK country to have a border with an EU nation – the Republic of Ireland.

Checks on the border would disrupt the GFA, according to both nations, so the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol was agreed in order to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

The UK has since agreed to the Windsor Framework with the EU in an attempt to overcome the issues with the protocol.

The new post-Brexit deal was designed to reduce the number of checks on goods entering Northern Ireland ports by designating two lanes. Products travelling through Northern Ireland to reach the Republic – which is in the EU – will go via a red lane for all the relevant customs checks, while those being sent only to Northern Ireland will go via a green lane.