The plane was 35,000ft over the Atlantic when Rishi Sunak finally snapped. The breaking point was a question from the Financial Times about why the British prime minister thought a “mid-size country” might be in a position to write the global rules for artificial intelligence. There was a flash of anger in his eyes. “That mid-size country you talked about,” Sunak began, before proceeding to extol Britain’s position as a global leader in technology.
Sunak’s frustration had been building for months. Behind the scenes he railed to friends and colleagues about journalists talking down Britain. Why, he wondered, could they not be more proud of their own country, like French reporters? But nobody on that trip to Washington in June had ever seen him quite like this before: the cool technocrat stirring for a fight.