Rishi Sunak seeks to rebuild UK relations with devolved leaders at Irish summit

FILE PHOTO: Rishi Sunak at Downing Street

LONDON (Reuters) - Rishi Sunak will become the first British prime minister in 15 years to attend the British-Irish Council summit on Thursday and meet with the leaders of the Scottish and Welsh devolved governments as he bids to rebuild relations.

Sunak, who took office just over two weeks ago, will meet with his Irish counterpart Micheal Martin ahead of the summit in North West England, as well as Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford.

Sturgeon, who wants to hold a second Scottish independence referendum next year, had criticised Sunak's predecessor, Liz Truss, for failing to even call her during her tumultuous seven weeks as prime minister.

The British-Irish Council was established as part of Northern Ireland's Good Friday Agreement peace deal to promote cooperation between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom.

The summits, which take place twice a year, are normally attended by the Irish prime minister and first ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. No British leader has attended since 2007.

"We face huge challenges from global economic headwinds to war in Europe. So let's be pragmatic. Let's work together in our shared interests," Sunak is due to say at the opening of the summit, according to advance extracts provided by his office.

"Let's deliver for all our people across these great islands – and build a future defined not by division, but by unity and hope."

In the margins of the summit, Sunak will meet with the heads of the devolved governments to update them on work ahead of the government's Nov. 17 fiscal statement, in which the government is expected to lay out spending cuts and tax rises to fill a 50 billion pound hole in public finances.

Finance minister Jeremy Hunt will join those discussions virtually.

Sunak will also reiterate his commitment to restoring the Northern Ireland Executive, a day after the British government pushed back a deadline to hold a new election in the province.

(Reporting by Kylie MacLellan; additional reporting by Conor Humphries; Editing by Leslie Adler)