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Rishi Sunak on Tuesday flies to Washington on a two-day mission to prove that Britain remains an important player on the world stage following recent political and economic convulsions in the UK.

The UK premier will meet Joe Biden, hoping to convince the US president that Britain has a key role to play in global security and forging a regulatory framework for artificial intelligence.

But the EU and US, the west’s two big power blocs, are already discussing ways to regulate AI and the UK’s Labour opposition claims that Britain has become less relevant in Washington.

Biden and Sunak had a difficult start to their relationship — exacerbated by Brexit and its impact on Northern Ireland — with the US president apparently baffled last year by the political turmoil in the UK.

Biden last October hailed “Rashid Sanook” as Britain’s third prime minister in a year, and he claimed he had to travel to Belfast in April to make sure the “Brits didn’t screw around” with the Northern Ireland peace process.

But the meeting in Washington will be the fifth since Sunak became prime minister, and diplomats say relations have warmed, with Ukraine bringing the two old allies closer together.

“The UK remains one of our strongest and closest allies,” said Amanda Sloat, senior director for Europe at the National Security Council, during Biden’s recent visit to Northern Ireland. “It’s difficult, frankly, to think of an issue in the world that we are not closely co-operating with the British on.”

Sunak wants his meeting with Biden to focus on security in its broadest sense and on Monday restated his case for Ben Wallace, the UK defence secretary, to become the next secretary-general of Nato.

The prime minister described Wallace as “widely respected among his colleagues around the world, particularly for the role he’s played in Ukraine”, and said Britain was a leading contributor to the alliance.

Jens Stoltenberg, the Norwegian incumbent, is due to step down at the end of September with a replacement to be chosen at next month’s Nato leaders’ summit in Vilnius. 

But with just five weeks to go there is no clarity over who that could be — so far Biden has not named a preferred candidate. Most Nato officials say allies would prefer a female candidate or one from eastern Europe, after decades of northern European men.

Wallace would need to win both Biden’s support and the backing of Paris, which is seen as lukewarm towards the first post-Brexit secretary-general being British.

However, the leading women tipped for the role — Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen and Canadian deputy prime minister Chrystia Freeland — hail from countries that have traditionally fallen far short of spending 2 per cent of national output on defence, a minimum Nato target.

Sunak will raise the issue of AI regulation as another key security concern, arguing that the UK can play a “leadership” role in setting a framework for the sector.

However the US and EU are already discussing a voluntary code of conduct for AI and the issue is a test of whether Sunak can prove that Brexit has enabled Britain to take a “nimble” and innovative approach to regulating new technology.

Rachel Reeves, Britain’s shadow chancellor, claimed on a visit to Washington last month that Sunak’s government had made itself less relevant by criticising as “protectionist” Biden’s $369bn green subsidy plan, the Inflation Reduction Act.

Sunak’s allies say the prime minister is likely to strike a more emollient tone on the green subsidy question.

Kemi Badenoch, the UK trade secretary, has urged Washington to ensure that British-based companies operating in US supply chains are able to benefit from the subsidies. Other western allies are making similar demands.

In March the US and Japan signed an agreement on critical mineral supply chains, with Tokyo expecting to get tax benefits from the IRA for battery components and critical raw materials used in electric vehicles.

Lord Kim Darroch, former UK ambassador to Washington, said Sunak would arrive with some heavy political baggage that has complicated the team-Atlantic relationship.

“I never met a Democrat who thought Brexit was a good idea,” Darroch said. “They hated Brexit because they felt it was going against the trends of world history and it cost them their main channel into the EU.”

But he added: “One saving grace has been Ukraine. Whatever else they thought about Boris Johnson — and they thought he was showboating at times — they felt we were giving more than the rest of Europe to Ukraine. That has restored a certain credibility in Washington.”

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Friday said Biden hoped to deepen “the close and historic relationship and partnership” between the UK and US.

Biden is expected to return to the UK for a state visit after accepting an invitation in April from King Charles III.

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