Atlantic declaration shows Sunak and Biden’s willingness to simply make do | Foreign policy #Atlantic #declaration #shows #Sunak #Bidens #willingness #simply #Foreign #policy

If Rishi Sunak’s two-day visit to Washington demonstrated anything, it was the vital but sometimes neglected political lesson that in the absence of the ideal, you make the best of what you have, in terms of people and policy.

Sunak and Joe Biden are very different politicians and in many ways not natural allies. But what they do have in common is an appreciation that, for both, things could be much worse, or at least notably more chaotic, in the form of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, or Donald Trump.

There is also an obvious eagerness to get on, whatever the arguable lack of natural connection. As the pair began their discussions in the Oval Office on Friday, even before the reporters left, Sunak could be seen leaning forwards eagerly in his cream armchair as if towards a mentor.

The pair chatted alone for 40 minutes, with UK officials saying the prime minister values the US president’s decades of political experience, including on areas such as China.

When Sunak and Biden finally completed their discussions and made the short walk to the White House’s East Room to face the collective mass of their two countries’ media, it was to announce an accord which, similarly, involved some fairly obvious compromises.

The Atlantic declaration – or “the Atlantic declaration for a 21st-century US-UK economic partnership”, to give the full, portentous title – is a slightly haphazard collection of economic-based pledges and accords, some of which are already happening, while others are little more than aspirations.

What it is not is the full post-Brexit trade deal to which Sunak remains officially committed, one No 10 believes Biden would most likely agree to if he had the congressional bandwidth to get it passed. But it is, nonetheless, something tangible from a trip that had, until near the end, risked feeling almost ceremonial, albeit filled with signals that Biden is happy to court his UK visitor.

Sunak was clearly delighted to be put up at Blair House, the palatial presidential guest residence that had not hosted a British PM since David Cameron, complete with its longstanding in-house British chef from Warrington, who offered fish and chips on the official menu in tribute.

Similarly, Sunak was feted at a Washington Nationals baseball game – a sport he understands after living in the US, although he prefers basketball and American football – and spent time hobnobbing with players on the pitch in a glistening white team jacket.

Sunak poses with Screech, the Washington Nationals’ mascot, while attending the team’s game against Arizona Diamondbacks
Sunak poses with Screech, the Washington Nationals’ mascot, while attending the team’s game against Arizona Diamondbacks. Photograph: Niall Carson/AP

As a crescendo to the visit, the Atlantic declaration was notable perhaps less for its content than what it perhaps indicated: the ability and willingness of two very different but similarly pragmatic leaders to compromise, bend and, as needed, simply make do.

Biden is not an instinctive anglophile or a fan of Brexit, but was willing to make a fuss of a UK prime minister who, in notable contrast to his two immediate predecessors, does not exist in a haze of chaos and was able to make a deal with the EU over Northern Ireland.

In policy terms, Sunak arguably gave more, the Atlantic declaration bringing the UK much more obviously into the orbit of Biden’s almost protectionist vision of trusted allies sharing technology and supply chains in the face of threats from China and Russia.

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This is not obvious policy for the Conservatives, hence the politely discordant note of the press conference in which Sunak said his host was not a protectionist, while at the adjoining lectern the president espoused his interventionist worldview, breezily adding: “It’s not going to hurt any of our allies or friends.”

At the core of this mutual pragmatism is a simple acceptance of facts: the world has moved on from the Brexit vote of 2016, even the 2019 UK election, when Sunak and his allies championed unfettered global free trade.

First came Covid, then Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with worries a Chinese move against Taiwan could follow. A focus on collaboration among allies and securing supply chains suddenly makes more sense.

Sunak is known to believe he has achieved a significant amount in foreign policy since becoming prime minister, while also accepting that the realities of politics means it is unlikely to boost his poll ratings.

But with a general election perhaps as little as a year away, all achievements are welcome. And with the timetable closing fast, making the best of things may seem increasingly tempting.

#Atlantic #declaration #shows #Sunak #Bidens #willingness #simply #Foreign #policy

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