By Benjamin Fox
(EurActiv) — Liz Truss has become the new UK prime minister after the Conservative leadership contest to replace Boris Johnson confirmed her as his successor on Monday (5 September), against the backdrop of growing political and economic problems.
The former foreign secretary defeated rival Rishi Sunak by 57-43% in a ballot of the 160,000 Conservative party members. The result was closer the expected, with Sunak closing the gap among party members in the final weeks of the two-month campaign. Sunak had topped the ballot among Conservative MPs in the House of Commons.
Despite originally campaigning for the UK to stay in the EU at the 2016 referendum, and having been a student leader for the pro-European Liberal Democrats while at university, Truss has emerged as one of the most enthusiastic advocates of Brexit, and comes from the right of the Conservative party.
She benefited from the support of most of Johnson’s supporters and praised the outgoing premier for Brexit, the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines and having “stood up to Vladimir Putin”.
“You were admired from Kyiv to Carlisle,” she added.
Her first challenge will be to unite a Conservative party that has been bitterly divided by Johnson’s leadership and looks increasingly jaded, having been in power for the last 12 years.
Sunak is unlikely to take a job in the new government and business minister Kwarsi Kwarteng is tipped to take the key Chancellor post. Former Brexit minister, David Frost, meanwhile, has also been earmarked for a prominent cabinet job.
Truss takes over an economy on the brink of a recession that the Bank of England has forecast could last for a year, and will be under pressure to quickly introduce new measures to help people cope with energy prices which have increased by 80% this year.
That is likely to include a freeze on energy prices alongside cuts to business taxes and a 5% cut to VAT in an attempt to boost consumer spending.
“I will deliver on the energy crisis, dealing with people’s energy bills but also dealing with the long-term issues we have on energy supply,” said Truss in her acceptance speech in London on Monday.
Her non-committal remark, when asked whether French President Emmanuel Macron was a ‘friend or foe’, that “the jury is out”, also flaunted her Euroscepticism.
During the campaign, Truss’s team hinted that one of her first moves as prime minister was likely to be to suspend the Northern Ireland protocol, although domestic priorities are likely to take precedence over the coming weeks.
Truss was also responsible for tabling the bill – still making its way through the UK parliament – which seeks to unilaterally override parts of the protocol.
In response, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen commented that “I look forward to a constructive relationship, in full respect of our agreements”.
Von der Leyen also added, perhaps in a nod to Truss’s comments on Macron, that “the EU and the UK are partners”.