New Conservative Party leader and Britain´s Prime Minister-elect Liz Truss delivers a speech at an event to announce the winner of the Conservative Party leadership contest in central London on September 5, 2022.  — AFP

New Conservative Party leader and Britain´s Prime Minister-elect Liz Truss delivers a speech at an event to announce the winner of the Conservative Party leadership contest in central London on September 5, 2022.  — AFP

LONDON: Liz Truss was on Monday announced as the UK’s next prime minister, after winning an internal leadership contest of the ruling Conservative party.

The foreign secretary beat her rival, former finance minister Rishi Sunak, by 81,326 votes to 60,399, after a summer-long internal contest sparked by Boris Johnson’s resignation in July.

“I campaigned as a conservative and I will govern as a conservative. My friends, we need to show that we will deliver over the next two years,” Truss said in her speech after the result was announced.

“I will deliver a bold plan to cut taxes and grow our economy. 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.”

“I also want to thank our outgoing leader, my friend, Boris Johnson. Boris, you got Brexit done. You crushed Jeremy Corbyn. You rolled out the vaccine and you stood up to Vladimir Putin. You are admired from Kyiv to Carlisle.”

“We will deliver a great victory for the Conservative Party in 2024.”

Truss has UK’s foes, and friends, in sight

Judging by her words as foreign secretary and on the Downing Street campaign trail, the new UK prime minister appears to be itching for a fight with Europe, Russia and China.

Truss’s bellicose tone towards friends and foes alike — even French President Emmanuel Macron has not been immune — has some in the UK security establishment worried.

Defence chiefs forced Truss to backtrack in February when, as foreign secretary, she gave her approval to any Britons wanting to head to Ukraine to fight against the Russian invaders.

The cause of Ukraine became a rallying cry for her predecessor, Boris Johnson. Truss says she would “double down” on his government’s support for Kyiv.

“We will keep going further and faster to push Russia out of the whole of Ukraine,” she said in a keynote speech in April, indicating that Moscow must also vacate Crimea, which it annexed in 2014.

The Truss doctrine

The speech, at Mansion House in the City of London financial district, previewed the foreign policy themes that are likely to inform Truss’s world view from 10 Downing Street.

“My vision is a world where free nations are assertive and in the ascendant,” she said.

“Where freedom and democracy are strengthened through a network of economic and security partnerships. Where aggressors are contained and forced to take a better path.”

The “aggressors” include Russia — and China.

In late July, Truss promised to build stronger economic and trade ties with Commonwealth nations to counter what she said was China’s “growing malign influence”.

No kowtowing

Truss’s vision of like-minded partners in economics and security encompasses Pacific powers Australia and Japan, also as a counter to China.

She has attacked China’s rights record in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, and its economic protectionism.

A UN report last week on the plight of the Uyghurs “shames China in the eyes of the international community”, Truss said.

“And we must ensure that democracies like Taiwan are able to defend themselves,” she said in April, before Chinese military drills in early August sent cross-strait tensions soaring.

Protesting the drills, Truss summoned China’s ambassador in London but ruled out visiting Taiwan as prime minister.

Brexit zealot

At times for Truss, Brussels has appeared an even bigger foe than Beijing to what she and Johnson like to call “Global Britain”.

EU-bashing will have lost her no votes among the Conservative faithful electing a new leader. But after campaigning against Brexit in 2016, Truss appears to have the zeal of the convert.

As foreign secretary, she already signalled a collision course by pushing legislation that would unilaterally rewrite a key plank of the two sides’ Brexit deal, concerning Northern Ireland.

Undaunted by talk of a trade war with the EU, Truss said in mid-August she was “absolutely determined” to ram the bill through the House of Lords in the weeks ahead, after it cleared the House of Commons.

Not-so-special relationship?

Truss has channelled Tory icon Margaret Thatcher in much of her right-wing policy platform, but the comparison falters when it comes to Thatcher’s devotion to the transatlantic alliance.

Her vows to rewrite the Brexit-related “Northern Ireland Protocol” and uncompromising stance towards Vladimir Putin’s Russia have raised eyebrows in President Joe Biden’s Washington.

According to the Financial Times last week, in her first meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken a year ago, Truss queried the very premise of the “special relationship”.

“That conversation was emblematic of a style described as blunt, binary and assertive by US officials and analysts, some of whom said Truss was quick to take maximalist positions without thinking of the consequences,” the FT reported.

Truss caused more unease for London’s diplomatic establishment when, at a Tory hustings in late August, she refused to identify Macron as a friend of Britain.

“The jury’s out,” she said.

At the final hustings last week, Truss refused to comment on the implications for the UK if former US president Donald Trump runs again for the White House.

She did say: “Both the United States and France are freedom-loving democracies, and I will work with both of them, whoever the leader is.”

More to follow…

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