LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Liz Truss took office less than two weeks ago, eager to make her mark on government and facing an overflowing inbox of crises: Soaring inflation, falling currency national and skyrocketing energy bills.
Then the death of Queen Elizabeth II, aged 96 tore up Truss’ carefully crafted blueprints.
The historic event was both a challenge and a reprieve for Britain’s untested new leader. The monarch’s disappearance put daily politics on hold in the UK as the country plunged into a period of emotional mourning.
“It gave him space to think without the media, to plan,” said political historian Anthony Seldon. “The one thing that (a) prime minister lacks most is time to reflect.”
Truss won a Conservative Party leadership race on September 5 and was appointed Prime Minister by the Queen at Balmoral Castle the following day, in one of Elizabeth’s last acts.
Truss was told the Queen was gravely ill as she announced an emergency power pack in the House of Commons on September 8, which was intended to mitigate the impact of the sharp increases in the fuel bill caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The monarch’s death was announced hours later, leaving many questions about the support scheme unanswered as parliament was suspended for 10 days of official mourning.
Truss’ appearances since then have been largely ceremonial. She traveled to the Queen’s memorial services in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and attended King Charles III’s accession ceremony. On Monday, Truss will join hundreds of political leaders and dignitaries from around the world in the congregation of 2,000 for the Queen’s funeral at Westminster Abbey.
After that, politics will come back in full force and Truss will try to make up for lost time. She will launch herself on the world stage by traveling to New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly next week.
Even before the funeral, Truss is quietly getting to know other world leaders. She is holding private meetings this weekend with key allies, including the prime ministers of Canada, Australia and New Zealand, Irish leader Micheal Martin, US President Joe Biden and Polish President Andrzej Duda, whose country is at the forefront of support for Ukraine. .
“The fact that so many world leaders… are flocking to London gives the new Prime Minister ample time for soft diplomacy, those quiet conversations before and after the funeral, which will help him achieve his goal – if it is attainable. — of “global Britain,” Seldon said.
Truss wants to reassure her allies that she will continue the strong political and military support for Ukraine begun under her predecessor, Boris Johnson. At the UN, she is also likely to urge the world’s democracies to work more closely together in what she called a “network of freedom”.
But Truss also has bridges to make, especially with Biden. The US leader has expressed concerns about the impact of Britain’s departure from the European Union on the delicate peace in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland shares a border with EU member Ireland and Brexit has led to new controls on goods which have escalated into a political crisis in Belfast. Britain’s Unionist politicians refuse to form a power-sharing government with Irish nationalists, saying Brexit border controls undermine Northern Ireland’s place in the UK
Johnson’s government has announced plans to suspend controls and tear up part of its Brexit treaty with the EU – a move that angered the bloc and alarmed Washington. Biden warned that neither party should do anything to undermine the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, a cornerstone of the Northern Ireland peace process, which the United States played an instrumental role in brokering.
Truss says she wants to reach a deal with the EU, but will press ahead with Johnson’s plan to rewrite the rules if that fails. It is unclear whether UK-EU relations, which hit rock bottom during Johnson’s turbulent tenure, will improve under Truss. She ruffled French feathers last month when she said the “jury is out” on whether French President Emmanuel Macron is friend or foe.
At home, Truss — a small-state, free-market conservative — was forced to leave her political comfort zone and spend billions to cap energy prices for homes and businesses that had faced a downturn. 80% increase next month as Russia’s war in Ukraine sends energy prices soaring.
The government will reveal more details about its energy package – and face pointed questions from the opposition – when lawmakers return to parliament on Wednesday.
Then on Friday Truss-appointed Treasury chief Kwasi Kwarteng is due to make an emergency budget statement to deal with the UK’s deteriorating economic situation. Inflation fell slightly in August but remains at 9.9%, the highest in four decades, while the pound is at its lowest in 37 years against the dollar. The Bank of England predicted that a long recession would begin later this year.
Kwarteng is likely to announce personal or corporate tax cuts – or both – in hopes of boosting economic growth, although critics say such measures help the better-off more than the poor.
Newspapers report that Kwarteng also wants to scrap the cap on bankers’ bonuses imposed after the 2008 global financial crisis. It would be highly controversial and would abruptly end the political truce that followed the Queen’s death.
“We’re starting to see… the signs of what Liz Truss’ new economy is all about,” Margaret Hodge, an opposition Labor MP, told the BBC. “To think of bankers at this point is obscene.”