DOWNING Street has lauded France as a “long standing ally” and insisted relations with it are good in a bid to ease tensions before Liz Truss meets Emmanuel Macron today.

The Prime Minister infamously said the “jury’s out” when asked if the French President was a “friend or foe” of the United Kingdom during last month’s Tory leadership race.

Asked the same question, her rival Rishi Sunak unhesitatingly said “friend”.

In her first foreign trip as Prime Minister, Ms Truss is due to Mr Macron and US President Joe Biden in New York amid continued tensions over Brexit.

Her visit to the annual United Nations General Assembly will also feature a meeting with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen today. 

The PM meets Mr Biden tomorrow for a “full bilateral” after a smaller meeting on the margins of the Queen’s funeral was cancelled.

However she is not scheduled to receive the White House visit that Boris Johnson enjoyed as PM when he went to last year’s UN general assembly.

Ms Truss hopes the focus of the next two days will be energy security and combating Russia’s war in Ukraine, but clashes over the Northern Ireland Protocol are bound to feature.

Mr Biden, who is proud of his Irish heritage, has raised concerns about Brexit’s threat to the peace process and downplayed the chances of the UK striking a free-trade deal if it carries out its threat to rip up the protocol. 

Mr Macron has long been a critic of Brexit and has been firm in pressing the UK to keep to commitments on Northern Ireland and fishing rights.

Last week, the UK refused to reinstate checks on goods in Northern Ireland it had unilaterally suspended despite the EU taking legal action against it.

Brussels could now refer the case to the European Court of Justice, which could fine the UK for not fully implementing the protocol, the post-Brexit trading arrangement that creates a de facto trade border in the Irish Sea.

Ahead of the Prime Minister’s visit ot the States, her spokesman pointedly described France as a “longstanding ally” and insisted relations between London and Paris, as well as with the EU, were “good”.

Asked if the meeting with Mr Macron would be uncomfortable, the spokesman said: “No, the Prime Minister wants to build a constructive relationship with President Macron.”

However the UK will press on with the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which the EU and others say will break international law.

Ms Truss is also scheduled to meet Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Spain’s Pedro Sanchez and Israel’s Yair Lapid as she warns now is not the time to “take our foot off the gas” in opposing Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Her spokesman said: “We will continue to act to restore sovereignty and self-determination to Ukraine because this isn’t just Ukraine’s fight, the whole world suffers when a regime like Putin’s is allowed to bully and blackmail its neighbours.”

The PM will seek to use the visit to “spur further international action to end energy dependence on Russia making sure the world is never in this position again”.

Her spokesman added: “In the short term that means increasing the supply of gas and other sources of energy and in the long-term it means democracies tapping into our shared resources, natural, technological and entrepreneurial to develop alternative sources of energy.”

Before leaving the States on Wednesday evening, Ms Truss will use her summit speech to say the UK under her leadership will be “an active defender of our democratic values” and will work to counter authoritarianism with allies.

The trip kicks off a frantic few days of political activity for the new PM, with details on how businesses will be helped through the energy crisis and a major announcement on the NHS due this week before Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-budget on Friday.