Political storm returns for Liz Truss after days of UK mourning

Published Sun, Sep 18, 2022 · 04:14 PM

NEW British Prime Minister Liz Truss and her government were barely into its stride when the UK was thrust into a state of suspended animation following the death of its longest-serving monarch, Queen Elizabeth II.

But after Monday’s (Sep 19) state funeral, British politics will return full-throttle with Truss back under pressure over a deepening economic crisis.

She starts the week by flying to the United Nations General Assembly in New York - her first outing on the world stage as UK premier. She will end it in the House of Commons, as her Chancellor of the Exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng lays out a mini-Budget that will set the tone for her premiership.

It has been an unprecedented start for Truss, who was formally appointed by the Queen just 2 days before she died on Sep 8.

Her death was announced hours after Truss unveiled a sweeping package of support for Britons facing soaring energy bills, but much of the details - including how firms can expect to benefit - have remained unpublished during the period of national mourning.

It’s left the British public, as well as members of her ruling Conservative Party, with unanswered questions about how she plans to govern.


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Truss, who was foreign secretary under former prime minister Boris Johnson, won the Tory contest to replace him as leader by appealing to the small-state, Thatcherite base of the party. She promised lower taxes, slammed the “Treasury orthodoxy” she said was holding the country back and hit out at the idea of “handouts” for people struggling.

Yet in her first week in the job, she unveiled a massive intervention to contain energy prices that will cost taxpayers billions of pounds. Allies of Truss say the plan provides cover for her to pursue the type of policies that will placate the ideological right of the party.

As a die-hard libertarian, they are policies she believes in the most strongly but are also seen as essential for party management given her power base.

According to people familiar with her thinking, Truss wants to ensure rank-and-file Tories are left in no doubt that her government will be more traditionally Conservative than Johnson’s, which was criticised by many in the party for defaulting to state intervention as problems arose.

Though officially in a news blackout period, snippets of Truss’ plans have appeared in the press, including some of the key promises of her leadership campaign. A crackdown on trade unions is one, an issue likely to take centre stage at the Tory conference in October when train drivers plan to go on strike.

Plans to lift a cap on bankers’ bonuses, introduced while the UK was a member of the European Union (EU), and an end to the ban on domestic fracking, are both likely to please rank-and-file Tories.

Likewise scrapping measures to tackle obesity by halting discounts on junk food, which were planned by Johnson’s administration, will help meet her pledge to cut red tape facing companies.

Still, it’s not only domestic battles that Truss must gear up for this week. On the international stage, she has won plaudits as foreign secretary over the UK’s tough stance towards Russia and support for Ukraine.

But her determination to rewrite the Brexit divorce deal risks exacerbating tensions with the EU and could further undermine the UK’s so-called special relationship with the US. That raises the stakes for her first meeting as leader with US President Joe Biden, scheduled to take place on Wednesday in New York. It’s a delicate balancing act, because the talks will - for better or worse - kick off their relationship.

It’s a packed schedule in what is effectively her first proper full week as prime minister. Allies say the mourning period has insulated Truss from the criticism and scrutiny she would have expected in normal times. The question is whether having had this unexpected extra time to prepare, Truss and her team are ready for the coming political onslaught. BLOOMBERG



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