Rishi Sunak and Joe Biden had a jolly time together on Monday, meeting up in London to consolidate what the US president described as a “rock solid relationship”. So our prime minister might have felt a bit betrayed today when he discovered that Labour is also soothing our friends across the pond.
Indeed Nick Thomas-Symonds, Labour’s shadow trade secretary, was in Washington DC today to meet up with Katherine Tai, the US trade representative. He will later this week meet with business leaders in New York City to plead for a future trade deal on digital services if Labour comes to power at the next general election.
The deal would scrap tariffs on digital content and help foster transatlantic cooperation in industries like cybersecurity and financial services.
That Labour is seriously preparing for government is no news. But Thomas-Symond’s trip to the US signals an even stronger commitment to build ties on the international stage, and to prove the credibility of a Labour government even before it actually comes into existence.
This might perturb Sunak, who is just about starting to consolidate his standing vis-a-vis global leaders. He is said to be appreciated by Biden and French president Emmanuel Macron, among others, for his seriousness and professionality. Yet on Ukraine and climate policy, he hasn’t managed to show the charisma and leadership of his nemesis Boris Johnson.
Plus with the recent tension over the US sending cluster bombs to Ukraine, while Sunak “discouraged” their use in the war, not everything is smooth between the two countries. Biden not backing British defence secretary Ben Wallace as the potential next NATO chief might have also driven a little wedge between the UK and the US.
Yet Labour’s strategy of preemptive cooperation is smart, and seems to be working. Sunak should take note.