Next UK prime minister Liz Truss cannot miss a beat on global policy

Without Russian gas, Europe is facing a potentially calamitous energy shortage this winter

A mural depicting the new Conservative party leader Liz Truss in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Getty Images
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While the appointment of a new British prime minister to replace Boris Johnson may bring an end to a turbulent era in British politics, it also presents the new incumbent Liz Truss with a vital opportunity to re-establish Britain’s vital role in global affairs.

For all the criticism Mr Johnson attracted over his careless administration of Downing Street, his performance on the world stage has won him many plaudits, especially his handling of the Ukraine crisis, where he displayed courage and resolve in his support for the Ukrainian cause.

Apart from becoming a national hero in Ukraine, where grateful citizens have named a street in his honour, Mr Johnson was at the heart of efforts to make sure the western alliance adopted a united position in its support for Ukraine.

Indeed, one of his last acts as prime minister was to attend the Nato and G7 summits in July, where he was widely praised for making sure that Kyiv had the military and economic support to sustain the conflict.

His unstinting commitment to Ukraine has even sparked suggestions he may be offered a special envoy role after he leaves office.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy (left) shaking hands with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on his last visit to Ukraine in August. PA

One consequence of Mr Johnson’s unceremonious removal from frontline politics, primarily over his flawed handling of domestic political scandals, is that it has left a leadership vacuum at the heart of the western alliance, one his successor must act quickly to resolve.

With Europe facing a potentially calamitous energy shortage this winter because of the dramatic reductions in Russian gas supplies to the continent, and American President Joe Biden increasingly preoccupied with the coming midterm elections, there is a very real danger that the enthusiasm of western leaders to continue supporting the Ukrainian cause will begin to wane.

While the EU is trying to maintain a united front against Moscow over the Ukraine crisis, signs are already emerging that prominent politicians in EU member states that rely heavily on Russia for their energy requirements, such as Italy, no longer have much appetite for maintaining sanctions against Moscow.

There is, consequently, an undeniable need for western leaders to demonstrate their resolve by reaffirming their commitment to the Ukrainian cause, an outcome that Britain’s new prime minister can help to achieve by revitalising key relationships with world leaders.

By far the most important relationship, so far, as Britain is concerned will be to reinvigorate ties with the Biden administration, which have come under strain in recent years.

Mr Biden has never been a fan of Brexit and tension has arisen between Washington and London over the controversial issue of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which has had a negative impact on trade between Britain and the province.

The American president, who takes great pride in his Irish heritage, has been critical of suggestions by the departing Johnson administration that Britain should abandon the protocol in the interests of protecting the sovereignty of the UK.

The US has responded to Britain’s withdrawal threat by scaling down the prospects of a new trade deal between London and Washington.

Britain’s new prime minister will also need to work hard at building relations with European leaders, especially French President Emmanuel Macron, who has been accused of turning a blind eye to the thousands of migrants making their way across the Channel in rubber dinghies.

Official figures put the number of new arrivals to Britain so far this year at 25,000.

The need for the new British leader to rebuild these key alliances takes on even greater importance now that Ukraine has launched its long-anticipated offensive to recapture the key strategic southern city of Kherson, which Russia captured and occupied in the early days of the conflict.

Liz Truss must work on forging more constructive relationships with global superpowers like the US, Germany and France. AFP

The battle for Kherson, widely regarded as the gateway to the Crimean peninsula, which Russia occupied in 2014, could prove to be the decisive in terms of the conflict’s ultimate outcome, and Ukrainian forces are desperately in need of new western arms and ammunition if they are to succeed in the quest to recapture the city.

In an effort to maintain western unity, therefore, one of the first acts of the new British prime minister will be to attend the UN General Assembly, which begins in New York next week, when the new incumbent is expected to have face-to-face meetings with Mr Biden, as well as other key European leaders.

There is even talk of a hastily arranged summit taking place in Washington to enable the new leader to become better acquainted with the Biden administration.

Certainly, now that the long-drawn out contest to replace Mr Johnson has been concluded, there can be little doubt that Britain’s new prime minister arrives in Downing Street at a moment when the western alliance faces one of its most formidable challenges in recent history.

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Updated: September 05, 2022, 1:58 PM
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