(Bloomberg) -- UK Prime Minister Liz Truss ditched the antagonistic rhetoric that became a hallmark of post-Brexit relations with the European Union in a sign the two sides may be moving closer to putting their differences behind them.
Truss insisted on Thursday that French President Emmanuel Macron is a friend -- just weeks after ducking the same question.
The pair held talks in Prague, agreeing to work more closely on ensuring energy security in both countries and on tackling illegal migration.
“He is a friend,” Truss told broadcasters ahead of the meeting. “We’re both very clear the foe is Vladimir Putin.”
It was a very different answer to the one she gave in August, when asked during the Conservative Party leadership contest whether Macron was a “friend or foe.” She replied then: “The jury’s out.”
That triggered international outrage, not least because Truss at the time was foreign secretary, Britain’s chief diplomat.
Relations between the UK and France have not been easy in recent months. Just like her predecessor Boris Johnson, Truss had long cast doubt on France’s efforts to stop migrants trying to get to Britain in small boats across the English Channel.
In July, Truss also blamed France for “entirely avoidable” delays at the border that saw holidaymakers and trucks face long queues. Officials in France pointed to the extra passport checks required after Brexit.
But there was a marked change in tone toward France -- and the EU as a whole -- as Truss attended the first summit of the new “European Political Community.” One EU official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that in a speech to fellow leaders, Truss underlined the UK’s enduring relationship with continental Europe.
The EU and UK have been locked in a protracted stalemate over Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trade arrangement, with the bloc threatening legal action. But the atmosphere has changed in recent days, with some seeing a deal within weeks.
“There is a window of opportunity now over the next couple of weeks to see if we can come to an agreement on the protocol,” Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar told reporters in Dublin on Thursday.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney met with UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly in London on Thursday evening, where they “agreed to work closely together” on issues regarding Brexit, the protocol and the war in Ukraine, he said on twitter.
There’s “a new air of of positivity and I think that has created a flicker of optimism” in terms of whether and when issues surrounding the protocol can be resolved, Coveney told Irish broadcaster RTE Friday.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who also met with Truss in Prague, told reporters that he was very happy with the signals he got from Truss on progress in the talks on Northern Ireland.
“Everybody wants to make this happen, that in a time of crisis we should not fight each other on this issue,” Rutte told reporters. “That is my optimistic feeling.”
Truss told broadcasters she was working “very, very closely with President Macron and the French government.”
In an emailed statement after her meeting with Macron in the margins of the summit, Truss’s office said the pair had “reaffirmed the strong and historic ties between their two countries” and agreed to hold the next UK-France summit next year in France to “take forward a renewed bilateral agenda.”
(Updates with Coveney comments in the 13th paragraph)
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