- Liz Truss has been named the new prime minister of the UK in the wake of Boris Johnson quitting.
- Truss, a Johnson loyalist, won a five-week campaign and is seen as offering continuity with Johnson.
- Truss is a prominent Brexit supporter, despite once opposing it, and has pledged sweeping tax cuts.
Liz Truss has been named the new Conservative leader after a fierce leadership battle following Boris Johnson’s resignation on July 7. The victory also makes her the new prime minister, due to take over on Tuesday.
Johnson was forced to step down after a string of scandals — including his handling of an accusation of sexual assault against one of his senior MP’s and attending parties during the COVID-19 lockdowns — sparked the resignation of more than 60 members of his government in three days.
An ally of Johnson, Truss has often been described as the continuity candidate – but who is she, and what can we expect from her premiership?
Who is Liz Truss?
Born in Oxford, England, in 1975, Truss has been MP for West Norfolk since 2010, a minister for 10 years and a cabinet minister for eight. It makes her one of the most experienced operators in the UK’s government.
Before being named Conservative leader, she was foreign secretary. Truss has also been trade secretary, women and equalities minister and environment secretary. She was the first woman to be Lord Chancellor and justice secretary.
During the 2016 EU referendum, Truss backed the Remain side, but later repositioned herself as an ardent Brexiteer to take positions more hardline than some who backed Brexit from the start, including Rishi Sunak, her rival for the leadership.
Truss also started out life supporting a different political party. As a student, she was a Liberal Democrat – the third-largest and most centrist party in the UK.
Unlike her predecessor, Truss attended a state-funded school, Roundhay, which she has criticised for having “let down” pupils. She went on to study Politics, Philosophy, and Economics at Oxford — a degree common to many in Britain’s political elite.
What does Truss believe?
Her switch from the Lib Dems to Tories, and Remain to Leave has led some critics to suggest Truss is something of a shape-shifter.
She certainly hasn’t shied away from controversy. A video of a young Liz Truss advocating for the abolition of the British monarchy — a fringe position she long since abandoned — went viral during her campaign.
More recently, Truss has placed herself on the right of the party, criticising “fashionable” policies on race, sexuality, and gender.
While Johnson attempted to emulate wartime leader Sir Winston Churchill, Truss has more often looked to Margaret Thatcher for inspiration, vowing not to give “handouts” but instead cut taxes in response to the growing economic crisis in the UK, which is facing high inflation and soaring energy costs.
As foreign secretary, she met with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov at the beginning of February as nations including the UK warned that the invasion of Ukraine was increasingly inevitable. It resulted in a frosty press conference with Lavrov complaining it was a conversation of “the mute with the deaf”.
It later transpired that Truss insisted on visiting Russia against official advice. “The head of the Russia desk told her not to go, the head of security told her not to go,” an official told The Times of London.
Within Westminster, Truss has gained a certain notoriety for her photoshoots including a Thatcher-esque tank ride, flying Britain’s Union Jack flag (on an umbrella) on overseas trips, and a series of glossy shots for an interview with the Mail on Sunday.
She is also (in)famous for her stilted delivery during speeches, as shown in the compilation video below from London’s Evening Standard newspaper.
A particularly awkward speech in 2014 resulted in memes that have followed her ever since, mostly focused on moments where Truss made an uncomfortable pause boasting of opening access to “new pork markets” in China and branding as “a disgrace” the extent to which Britons eat foreign instead of British cheese.
A 2021 profile by Politico noted that Truss had always been a nervous public speaker, but worked on honing her delivery after getting more prominent jobs.
During the five-week campaign to win the Conservative leadership, Truss stuck to her guns on tax, promising to reverse the 1.25% rise in National Insurance tax introduced by rival Rishi Sunak.
She also pledged not to introduce any new taxes and said she would scrap a planned 6% rise in corporation taxes.
Although this has been criticised as regressive, helping the richer in society more, Truss told the BBC it was fair because the richest paid more tax to begin with.
“Of course, there are some people who don’t pay tax at all,” she said on Sunday. “But to look at everything through the lens of redistribution I believe is wrong because what I’m about is about growing the economy and growing the economy benefits everybody.”
However, on Monday morning – hours before she was confirmed as the new party leader – The Daily Telegraph reported she was now considering freezing energy bills to avoid “Armageddon”.
Truss has adopted a similar approach to Johnson when it comes to Europe and Brexit.
As foreign secretary Truss has threatened to trigger Article 16 over the Northern Ireland Protocol, which unionists claim is damaging the UK’s integrity. During the campaign, sources suggested she could do this within days of becoming prime minister.
Asked whether French President Emmanuel Macron was a friend or foe to the British state, Truss replied “the jury is out”. This earned her some criticism, although Macron appeared to make light of it, leaving Johnson to insist that Macron was a “tres bon buddy”.
While she appears aligned with Johnson on Brexit, one area where the two disagree is the environment. Truss has called solar panels as “a blight on the landscape,” and plans to cut the green levy, a portion of energy bills that goes towards social and environmental projects.
—Sky News (@SkyNews) July 21, 2022
Who did she defeat?
Former chancellor Rishi Sunak was the second cabinet member to resign when Boris Johnson was Prime Minister and thus played a huge role in triggering the leadership election.
The two differed on their economic pledges, leading to some fiery moments in the campaign and making it unlikely he will hold a government post under the Truss administration.
While Truss pledged to reduce taxes immediately, Sunak wanted to look to do this after the UK had “gripped inflation.”
Sunak led the parliamentary stage of the contest, winning the backing of a majority of Conservative MPs, but lost that edge as the race continued, eventually polling more than 30 points behind Truss in the last few weeks.
A prominent Tory donor warned that Britain will be seen as racist for not selecting Sunak, who would have been the UK’s first non-white prime minister had he won.
What happens now?
While Truss has been named as Conservative party leader, she must wait another day before officially becoming prime minister.
Truss becomes prime minister on Tuesday when she will travel to meet the Queen at Balmoral in Scotland. It is the first time the Queen has handed over power outside of London, owing to concerns about the 96-year old monarch’s mobility.
Johnson is due to first inform the Queen of his resignation formally and become a backbench MP.
Truss will then announce her new Cabinet, with changes expected as early as Tuesday evening. Allies including Kwasi Kwarteng, James Cleverly and Therese Coffey are all likely to be rewarded with big new jobs while Dominic Raab, Michael Gove, Steve Barclay and Sunak, are likely to lose out.
Per reports in UK outlets, Truss is likely to oversee an emergency Budget, with a possible date of September 21.
Truss does not have to call a General Election and can hypothetically continue with the parliamentary majority which Johnson won until January 2025. But polls suggest Tory popularity is declining.
With a looming economic and energy crisis, as well as the ongoing war in Ukraine and the never-ending fall-out from Brexit, the new prime minister has a mammoth task ahead of her.