Liz Truss has begun a series of a crunch meetings with European leaders in Prague, as she gears up to make headway on energy and migration during the one-day summit.
The Prime Minister, who has endured a difficult few days after a Conservative Party conference dominated by internal division and backbench opposition to some of her key policies, landed in the Czech capital on Thursday for a day of diplomatic catch-ups and key bilateral meetings with French president Emmanuel Macron and other European leaders.
Her first meeting was with Czech prime minister Petr Fiala, during which No 10 said they noted opportunities for future collaboration on securing long-term energy supplies.
They were also in “strong agreement” on the need for like-minded European democracies to present a “united front” against Russian president Vladimir Putin’s “brutality” towards Ukraine, Downing Street said.
Ms Truss’s presence in Prague has attracted the interest of the European media, given the UK’s frosty relations with the EU in recent years and the ongoing row over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
“Are you happy to be in Europe, Prime Minister?” one reporter shouted at her as she walked into the gothic building.
She did not speak to the media when she arrived at the grand surroundings of Prague Castle, where she was greeted by Mr Fiala.
The Prime Minister earlier had a working lunch with Mr Fiala, where she thanked him for attending the funeral of the Queen in London last month.
She will later meet Mr Macron, as well as Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, with Ms Truss expected to focus on migration and progress on joint operations to disrupt people-trafficking gangs.
The Prime Minister is also expected to encourage countries to act more quickly to end Europe’s reliance on Russian energy supplies in light of its invasion of Ukraine.
On Thursday she will tell the gathering’s opening plenary session in Prague: “Europe is facing its biggest crisis since the Second World War. And we have faced it together with unity and resolve.
“We must continue to stand firm – to ensure that Ukraine wins this war, but also to deal with the strategic challenges that it has exposed.”
Ms Truss will seek to stress the UK’s role in European matters – including Ukraine – despite leaving the EU, Downing Street said.
The Prime Minister will say: “The threat was left to fester for far too long. Now, at last, we are tackling (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s aggression head on.
“And we should take the same approach with other challenges before us – including long-standing regional issues like energy and migration.
“Instead of the old approach which merely dealt with the symptoms, it’s time to address the fundamental causes.”
Even in Prague, Ms Truss could not escape from some of the turmoil in the Conservative Party, as former Cabinet minister Nadine Dorries, a backer of hers during the leadership race, warned that the Prime Minister must change course or risk leading the Tories to a landslide defeat at the next general election.
Ms Dorries told The Times: “I understand that we need to rocket-booster growth but you don’t do that by throwing the baby out with the bathwater. You don’t win elections by lurching to the right and deserting the centre ground for Keir Starmer to place his flag on.
“If we continue down this path, we absolutely will be facing a Stephen Harper-type wipeout. I’m sure she’s listened and will stop and rethink.”
Former Canadian prime minister Mr Harper lost power to Justin Trudeau in the 2015 election.
It was also reported the Conservatives have stopped working with Isaac Levido, the Australian political strategist who played a key role in the Tory election win in 2019.
Lee Cain, former communications chief to Ms Truss’s predecessor Boris Johnson, said it was a “monumental error” given that Mr Levido helped spearhead the “best election campaign in decades”.