Liz Truss has insisted she is not moving her administration closer to Europe, even as she hailed Emmanuel Macron as a “friend” at a one-day summit in Prague.
The prime minister, who has faced a torrid few days at home that included backbench revolts and a fractious party conference, sought to present the UK as a crucial ally in Europe against authoritarianism and as a staunch backer of Ukraine at the Czech summit.
But she was resolute that her attendance at the summit, alongside EU and some non-EU states, did not signal a fundamental shift in her perspective on the bloc.
She told broadcasters on Thursday evening: “What this is about is about working with all of our European partners to challenge (Vladimir) Putin’s appalling war in Ukraine, but also to work together on the issues that we all face, huge energy costs, rising inflation, and also migration across our continent.
“So it is very important that we work with our neighbours and allies to face down Putin but also deal with the issues we face.”
She denied that her attendance at the meeting, which will include face-to-face talks with the French president and her Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte, signalled any hopes of easing UK-EU trade as a way to boost growth.
“This is not about moving closer to Europe.
“This is about working with Europe on issues that we both face and both face rising energy costs, that’s why I took the decision to put in place the energy price guarantee so people in Britain weren’t facing bills of up to £6,000 ($6,684).
“That is why we’re working with our European neighbours on doing more on the North Sea, on off-shore wind, which I have been talking about today.
“We’re working with our partners on more nuclear energy, so that we’re never in the same position again of being dependent on Russia and Russia using energy as leverage against free democracies.”
At a plenary session earlier, Truss spoke to European leaders and pitched the UK as a key Ukrainian ally, referencing the example of Vaclav Havel, the first president of the Czech Republic following the collapse of communism.
Truss also told broadcasters that Macron was a “friend”.
Her own refusal, during the Tory leadership campaign, to comment on whether the French premier was a friend or foe prompted widespread criticism.