The relationship between the UK and US is “special but not exclusive” and London should not be “worried like some teenage girl at a party” when Washington seeks to strengthen ties with other nations, the foreign secretary says.
Liz Truss gave her view on the so-called “special relationship”, a phrase which has long been used to describe the ties between the UK and US, as she addressed a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.
Asked if she was a fan of the term, Ms Truss told the audience: “I do love the United States, I think it’s a fabulous country and a very close ally of the United Kingdom.”
But she stressed: “We’ve got other close allies as well. Australia is becoming a close ally of ours, we’ve got important relationships across Europe. We have an important relationship with India.
“So it’s special but not exclusive.”
The foreign secretary also said the UK should not feel insecure about the US seeking to deepen relations with countries like Japan and India.
“I don’t feel we’re in competition with other countries to be the United States’ best friend,” she declared at the event hosted by Conservative Home and The UK in a Changing Europe.
“I don’t think these things are a question of some kind of beauty parade of countries and the UK has to be front and centre and we’re worried like some teenage girl at a party if we’re not considered to be good enough.
“I just don’t see it like that.”
Strain has been placed on the relationship in recent months by the West’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, while there have been warnings that a row between the UK and EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol could scupper hopes of a UK-US trade pact.
On the status of trade talks and whether she was surprised by the seeming reluctance in Washington to move discussion forward, Ms Truss said: “To quote myself from yesterday, nothing surprises me or doesn’t surprise me. That’s politics for you.
“In the United States there has been a reaction against trade. It’s significant that in the 2016 US election, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump advocated not pursuing the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
“I think it’s an issue with trade, and the debate about trade and the United States, rather than an issue about the UK and that’s what we have to recognise.
“Of course I would like to see a trade deal with the US, I’m sure [international trade secretary] Anne-Marie Trevelyan would like to see a trade deal with the US, but there are plenty of other trade deals for us to be working on.
“I can assure you that the trade team will be kept fully utilised.”
Ms Truss, who also holds the equalities brief in government, replied “no” when asked if it was transphobic to say only women have a cervix.
And Ms Truss stood by her previous comments about transgender people not being able to self-identify without medical checks.
“I think we’ve struck the right balance between making the process for gender recognition simpler and kinder whilst also maintaining the checks and balances in the system,” she said.
“Under the Equality Act it’s very clear that single sex spaces can be protected by organisations.”
“I very much believe in the principle of individual humanity and dignity,” Ms Truss also said about her overall approach to equalities issues.
“What is dehumanising is to be treated as a woman rather than a person, as just a box ticked, rather than somebody with your own talents and ideas and hard work.
“That’s what we really need to get the focus back on, rather than seeing people as part of an identity group, we need to see them as individual humans.
“I want people to be treated the same regardless of their sex or their sexuality or their race, not because of it.
“That’s the problem with the debate and the way it’s prosecuted at the moment. It becomes about the characteristics rather than about the person themselves.”
In a wide-ranging discussion that lasted more than an hour, the foreign secretary also claimed:
• The UK “can’t allow the great to be the enemy of the good” when it comes to signing trade deals with countries that do not meet standards on human rights, adding: “Not every country regulates in the same way as the United Kingdom and we cannot be imposing our precise regulatory standards on other countries in order to achieve trade agreements”
• There is a “huge pipeline” of future trade deals on the horizon and said she wanted to strike more economic and security agreements like AUKUS and build a “position of strength with like-minded countries”
• The AUKUS pact the UK signed with Australia and the US “makes the world safer” and will “help prevent conflict”.