Transcript: British Ambassador to the U.S. Karen Pierce on “Face the Nation”

British ambassador: Elizabeth leaves “positive legacy” with Commonwealth

The following is a transcript of an interview with Dame Karen Pierce, the British ambassador to the U.S., that aired Sunday, Sept. 11, 2022, on “Face the Nation.”


MARGARET BRENNAN: We’re joined now by Dame Karen Pierce, the United Kingdom’s ambassador to the United States and Madam Ambassador, welcome to FACE THE NATION and our condolences to you and your country.


MARGARET BRENNAN: President Biden reminded the country that Queen Elizabeth said “grief is the price we pay for love,” and she said it after the attacks of 9/11. I wonder as you look around this town and you see Union Jacks down Pennsylvania Avenue, you have this outpouring of sympathy, has it surprised you how strong the reaction has been?

AMB. PIERCE: Well, could I start Margaret by also expressing my condolences to the American people on the anniversary of 9/11? As you say that that is what the Queen said. She also asked that the British institutions fly the American flag after 9/11 and on the 10th and 20th anniversaries. So I think it’s very good that the mayor and others have put up the British flags. It’s very kind of them. We appreciate it very much. And yes, I think we-we were a little bit surprised by quite how many Americans have rallied, have come to the embassy to pay their respects, have sent us messages. We were honored by the president coming to the embassy, the Vice President and Secretary Blinken. This is what close allies do, they support each other. Nevertheless, it’s a very moving thing to see.

MARGARET BRENNAN:And President Biden, other world leaders have said they will come to the United Kingdom for the funeral next Monday. I want to take a quick break here and come back because we have a lot to talk about. You have a lot of change ahead and underway in the United Kingdom and we will have more from the ambassador in just a moment. So stay with us.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to Face The Nation. We continue our conversation now with the United Kingdom’s ambassador to the United States, Dame Karen Pierce. It’s so good to have you here at such a key moment. And I wonder as King Charles III, and we start to see him in this role on the throne, what will change about the contours of the kingdom? And I asked that because, as I’m sure you’ve seen, there’s been a lot written in recent days. In the New York Times, there was a columnist Maya Jasanoff, who’s a British historian, or writes about the Empire. And she said, that the Commonwealth really kind of glosses over some of the more bloody forms of British colonialism. She said, in her role as Queen, Elizabeth helped obscure a bloody history of decolonization, whose proportions and legacies have yet to be adequately acknowledged. It sort of kicked off a debate here. And I wonder how you think King Charles will deal with that? Is he mindful of things like this?

AMB. PIERCE: He’s very politically aware, and astute and very much aware of the world around him. I think his first task will be to go around the constituent parts of the UK, promoting a message of unity. One of respect for the late Queen, but also one of renewal. He’ll want to show stability in unity and continuity. But he has made no secret of the fact there are things you’d like to modernize. So we’ll wait and see what those are. He’s a huge supporter of the Commonwealth, he becomes head of the Commonwealth, and that was decided a few years ago, he has gone on record as saying, it doesn’t matter what sort of government you have in the Commonwealth, whether you have a monarchy, whether you have a Republic, whether you have some other form, you are very welcome in the Commonwealth. And he wants to do what he can to strengthen that partnership of equal-equal nations, and I want to stress the equal. We can’t pretend we have a different history. There are good things and bad, and we need to talk about them. But I think that the assessment is-is-is too negative. I would say that one of the overwhelmingly positive things that came out of the Queen’s 70 years was the transition from Empire to Commonwealth, was the transition to having a fellowship of sovereign equal nations who will come together every two years, at head of government and head of state level, and who do an awful lot e.g. on trade in between. So I think that’s a positive legacy. And I think most countries in the Commonwealth would feel that.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The UK has had such tremendous change – four Prime Ministers in the past six years, a new Prime Minister just in recent days as well, Liz Truss. I want to ask you about the US-UK relationship, because President Biden has made clear when it comes to relations for him, protecting the peace in Northern Ireland is of utmost importance. And this looks like it could be a point of difference. Because the US has warned the UK not to hold a vote on this legislation that could affect the creation or not have a hard border between North and South Ireland. Do you believe that vote will happen? And what happens to US relations if that goes ahead?

AMB. PIERCE: So I think the first thing to say is that the President had a very warm discussion with the Prime Minister when she was first appointed. They talked about the special relationship, they talked about what Britain and the US can do together promoting democracy and open societies around the world and the need to push back on authoritarianism. So as the Queen herself said, what brings us together is-is far stronger than any individual issue that may divide us. We too in Britain, the Prime Minister wants to preserve the Good Friday peace agreement in Northern Ireland. She and the President and the Irish government absolutely share that aim.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But she has also talked about scrapping parts of that agreement with the EU, that’s–

AMB. PIERCE: Well that is a particular agreement about trade, so that Northern Ireland can trade with Ireland, which remains in the European Union, and the mainland of Great Britain can also trade with-with Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. And the difficulty arises precisely because we are determined to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. We accept thats an enormous gain of the Good Friday Agreement. It is hard to introduce trading arrangements that protect the integrity of the EU single market and protect the integrity of the United Kingdom–


AMB. PIERCE: single market when you haven’t got a border, but we don’t want to introduce a border. The legislation going through Parliament is not about a border. It’s about contingency measures that the government could take if it needed to if we cannot reach a negotiated settlement with the EU to make the passage of goods between Northern Ireland and Ireland smoother than it is now. There’s lots of disruption to communities. They can’t get the goods and medicine in Northern Ireland that they need. Government needs to sort this out.

MARGARET BRENNAN: There are a lot of challenges the Prime Minister faces, including economic ones, in large part because of Russia’s war on Ukraine. Do you see political risk to the alliance in the months ahead?

AMB. PIERCE: No, I think the alliance, the NATO alliance has shown that it is stronger than ever. There has been a remarkably united response to President Putin’s invasion, the same is true of the transatlantic relationship between Europe as a whole and the United States more broadly. Leaders will be able to get together in the forthcoming UN General Assembly where I think you’ll see more outpourings of support for Ukraine. There’s no doubt there is a cost of living crisis, that’s not unique to Britain. We have introduced measures around energy bills and energy prices to try and help ordinary households, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, our treasury secretary was here recently talking to Secretary Yellen. We’re looking together at how we can share best practice in what to do to help households.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, we will continue to follow closely in the coming days and weeks. Thank you so much, Ambassador..

AMB. PIERCE: Thank you

MARGARET BRENNAN: We will be right back.

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