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Truss arriving at a Cabinet meeting in April 2022 Alamy Stock Photo
Trussed Up

From student Lib Dem to Tory PM: What you need to know about Liz Truss

Truss’ history, her relationship with Ireland, and the policies she promised during her campaign.

LIZ TRUSS HAS officially taken up the mantle as the UK’s new prime minister.

At Balmoral Castle in Scotland – a break from the typical setting of Buckingham Palace – Boris Johnson formally gave Britain’s Queen Elizabeth his resignation and the queen in turn invited Truss to form a new government. 

In her first speech as prime minister outside Downing Street yesterday afternoon, Truss said she plans to “put the nation on the path to long-term success” through a focus on the economy, energy, and healthcare system.

From her start in the Liberal Democrats to her rise in the Tory ranks, here’s a look at Truss’ history, her relationship with Ireland and the policies she promised during her campaign.

From student Lib Dem leader to Tory prime minister

Born Mary Elizabeth Truss in 1975, the new Tory leader’s roots didn’t spring from within the Conservative party. Truss comes from a left-wing family with parents who brought her to marches protesting against Margaret Thatcher as a child.

As a student of Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford, a notably popular course for prospective politicians – its graduates include former UK prime ministers such as David Cameron, Edward Heath and Harold Wilson – Truss was an active member of the centre-left Liberal Democrats and became president of the party’s Oxford branch. However, she joined the Conservative Party in 1996 in the same year as her graduation.

She held a series of jobs, including four years at oil and gas company Shell, while unsuccessfully running as a candidate in the Greenwich London Borough Council elections in 1998 and 2002 and in a general election for the Hemsworth, West Yorkshire constituency in 2001.

She finally made her successful entry to politics in May 2006 as a councillor for the Greenwich London Borough. Four years later, she was elected to the House of Commons as an MP for South West Norfolk.

In the years since, she has climbed the Tory ranks as:

  • Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Childcare and Education
  • Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
  • Secretary of State for Justice
  • Lord Chancellor
  • Chief Secretary to the Treasury
  • Secretary of State for International Trade
  • Minister for Women and Equalities
  • Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs

During the Brexit referendum in 2016, Truss publicly supported staying within the European Union, but she reversed her position the following year and said then that she would vote in favour of Brexit if another referendum were to be held.

She announced her intention to pursue the leadership of the Conservative party, and by extension the prime ministership, on 10 July, among the last contenders to declare their candidacy.

After five rounds of balloting, Truss and Sunak were named as the final two hopefuls for the role, and the party-wide vote among Conservatives secured Truss the coveted position.

Truss’ relationship with Ireland 

Truss’ name was raised in the Dáil earlier this year well before the start of the campaign – in a discussion on whether or not she made a comment about Irish “farmers with turnips” several years ago. 

Former British diplomat Alexandra Hall Hall alleged on Twitter that Truss once told a US audience in 2019 that the only people in Ireland who Brexit would affect would be “a few farmers with turnips in the back of their trucks”.

Sources close to Truss claimed not to recognise the comments but Tánaiste Leo Varadkar was drawn on the matter by Meath TD Peadar Tóibín. Varadkar said: “I don’t know whether Secretary Truss made those remarks or not. It’s obviously up to her to confirm or deny them.”

In 2010, Truss herself tweeted: “Cooking potato cakes for the Irish this afternoon – raised eyebrows re technique – a bit like taking coals to Newcastle…”

In the months before the election, one of Truss’ main occupations as Foreign Affairs Secretary was leading the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill through the House of Commons.

The bill, a contentious piece of legislation that would see customs checks between Northern Ireland and Britain effectively scrapped, dominated discussions about the UK’s future relationships with Ireland and the European Union before Westminster’s summer recess.

It is against that backdrop, coupled with a common interest in finding remedies to the energy crisis, that the Irish government and new UK leadership will navigate their engagements.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin tweeted his congratulations to Truss after the election result was announced.

“I look forward to working with you, as PM of our nearest neighbour, on important issues we face together, both bilaterally and globally,” the Taoiseach said.

He later put out a statement saying that “a shared history and close ties of people, of economy, and of culture link our two countries”.

“A strong partnership between our two Governments is vital to underpin the Good Friday Agreement and support peace and prosperity on these islands,” the Taoiseach said.

“I hope we can use the period ahead to prioritise EU-UK engagement, and to reach agreed outcomes on the issues around implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol.”

In the days after Boris Johnson announced that he would resign, senior Irish government members including the Taoiseach, Tánaiste, and Minister for Foreign Affairs expressed hopes that a change in leadership would be an opportunity to rebuild relations with the UK that had been damaged in the dispute over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Truss played a key role in the UK’s plans to circumvent the Protocol, bringing the bill through the House of Commons and defending it against criticism both from Labour and some members of her own party.

A few months prior in December 2021, she became the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator following the resignation of David Frost. She said early on that she was “willing” to trigger Article 16, a mechanism in the UK’s deal with the EU to suspend parts of the deal if either side believes it is seriously impacting trade, if a solution could not be negotiated.

On a visit to Belfast in August during the campaign, Truss said she would be able to bring nationalist and union parties together to restore powersharing at Stormont. 

“But we do need to resolve the issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol, because at the moment what the Protocol is causing is a feeling of unfairness between the two communities in Northern Ireland because it is very hard,” she said.

It is likely that the Taoiseach will speak to Truss over the phone in the coming days, much like then-Taoiseach Leo Varadkar called Boris Johnson soon after his appointment to Downing Street in July 2019.

Energy will be high on the agenda as both countries face challenges with cost and supply.

Ireland’s gas imports come from the UK though the East-West interconnector between the Republic and Wales, with a second interconnector in Northern Ireland linking to Scotland. 

Policies and plans

In her first speech outside Downing Street, Truss outlined three “early priorities” for her prime ministership.

“Firstly, I will get Britain working again. I have a bold plan to grow the economy through tax cuts and reform,” Truss said. “I will cut taxes to reward hard work and boost business-led growth and investment.”

“Secondly, I will deal hands-on with the energy crisis caused by Putin’s war. I will take action this week to deal with energy bills and to secure our future energy supply.

“Thirdly, I will make sure that people can get doctor’s appointments and the NHS services they need. We will put our health service on a firm footing.”

Like Ireland, energy bills in the UK are forecast to soar this winter. 

On Sunday night, Truss promised that if she became prime minister, she would announce a plan to handle the crisis within a week.

Speaking on the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme, she said that she would “make sure there is an announcement on how we are going to deal with the issue of energy bills and long-term supply to put this country on the right footing for winter”.

She refused to give further details but comments earlier in the campaign give an indication of what that plan might look like – if she stands by her words.

Last week, Truss said that there would be no new taxes or energy rationing if she were leading the government, as opposed to Sunak who said on energy rationing that “we shouldn’t rule anything out”. 

She has said she plans to use an emergency budget in September to address cost of living rises by cutting taxes, reversing an increase to the national insurance rate, and suspending a levy on energy bills.

The new leader has also criticised the idea of a windfall tax, a measure that would further tax the profits of energy companies, saying she did not believe in windfall taxes “because they put off future investment”.

Overall, Truss’ key policy promise was a package of tax cuts that would cost the government at least £30 billion a year.

In early August, following warnings from the Bank of England about a recession and rising inflation, she said she would “look at what more can be done” but that “the way I would do things is in a Conservative way of lowering the tax burden, not giving out handouts”. 

The comment sparked some controversy: Sunak said it was “simply wrong to rule out former direct support”; former Tory leader candidate Penny Mordaunt then said it was “not that she’s ruling out future help, that’s a misinterpretation of what she said”, prompting former chief whip Mark Harper to tweet: “Stop blaming journalists {again) – reporting what you actually say isn’t ‘misinterpreted’.”

On rights for transgender people, while she was Equalities Minister, Truss told The Telegraph that she had “full respect for transgender people, however it wouldn’t be right to have self-identification with no checks and balances in the system”. 

During a hustings last month, Truss said that “I know a woman is a woman” and that that had “become a controversial statement in some parts of Britain today”. 

Her comments worried LGBT+ activists who say the UK’s current system, which requires transgender people to prove they meet a detailed list of criteria before their gender is legally recognised, is a burdensome process, and that the latter remark echoed some growing anti-transgender sentiment in Britain.

On housing, Truss promised to “scrap Whitehall-imposed top-down housing targets” and “place planning powers in the hands of local people”. 

She said she would remove “red tape” from inspections to increase the UK’s domestic food production and supported scrapping smart motorways, a system that uses variable road limits and removes hard shoulders from stretches of road, amid safety concerns. 

And she has proposed a review of Britain’s tax system, which she described as “even more complicated than the American tax system”, to “make it fairer for families, so if people take time out of work to look after children or elderly relatives, they are not penalised”.

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