Liz Truss: new UK PM faces huge challenges

She pledged to deliver a 'bold plan to cut taxes and grow our economy' after being named the new Conservative leader

Liz Truss arriving at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in London on Monday, where she was declared the winner of the Conservative Party leadership race with Rishi Sunak (centre). AP
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Liz Truss, Britain’s prime minister-elect, will be met with a full in-tray of demands on her first day in No 10 Downing Street as the country faces a catalogue of economic and social challenges.

Ms Truss was announced as the winner of the Tory leadership contest on Monday, beating her rival Rishi Sunak by 81,326 votes to 60,399. The pair fought a bruising campaign, clashing over how to address the energy crisis — by far the biggest concern for UK households before the winter.

Other issues facing Boris Johnson’s successor include how to help the National Health Service through the annual flu season amid the threat of another Covid-19 wave, support for Ukraine, achieving net-zero 2050 and dealing with the Scottish National Party’s push for another independence referendum.

'No idea' how to solve energy crisis

Ms Truss is seriously considering freezing energy bills in an effort to ease the burden on people, The Telegraph and The Times reported, having made tax cuts one of the main priorities in her prime ministerial campaign. The Times reports the package could be on the scale of the furlough scheme introduced by the former chancellor Mr Sunak when the Covid-19 pandemic struck in 2020. The Telegraph suggests the specifics of such a policy are still being debated.

Ms Truss has promised support but has remained tight-lipped on the exact details.

Speaking before the result announcement, Labour’s shadow justice secretary Steve Reed said the next leader could “do a lot worse” than to adopt the opposition party’s plan to freeze energy bills.

Liz Truss has pledged to deliver support to households to help them cope with rising energy prices. PA

Mr Reed said that Labour was “winning the battle of ideas” on how to solve the cost of living crisis, and had “come up with a fully costed plan”. He lambasted Ms Truss and Mr Sunak, saying both of them had “no idea what they’re going to do to help people.”

“They could do a lot worse than U-turn on what they’ve said in refusing help to families and look at what we’ve proposed and adopt it, as they have many times this year,” Mr Reed told BBC Breakfast. He dismissed the argument that the candidates require full Treasury briefings before announcing their plans to ease the cost of living crisis.

“One of them is the foreign secretary, one of them was the chancellor,” he said. “They have all the access they needed to the books; they have chosen to sit on their hands and do nothing and neither of them have come up with any plans. The only plan on the table right now is Labour’s.”

‘New leader must reunite Tories’

Another critical task for Ms Truss as she prepares to take the reins of the Conservatives and the country will be reuniting a fractured party following a divisive campaign. Mr Johnson urged his party to come together and back the new leader “wholeheartedly” before the result of the race.

Tory MP Mark Harper, a former chief whip and backer of Mr Sunak, said this would be “best done with a broadly based Cabinet”.

“I think this question about bringing the Conservative Party back together is going to be a big job for the winner today,” Mr Harper told Sky News. “Obviously, the election campaign has been quite bruising but you get people making those arguments during campaigns.

“The big question is about how to bring the party together and I said last week that the best way of doing that, and it’s a sign of strength actually, is for the winner of the contest to appoint people to their Cabinet from across the party, not just people that supported them but people from all wings of the party.”

He said the new leader would also have to provide “a big package of support” for cash-strapped Britons concerned about whether they will be able to afford to heat their homes in the months ahead.

The Conservative Party has for months been wracked by bitter infighting. Ms Truss remained loyal to Mr Johnson amid scandals such as the “partygate” saga over parties in Number 10 during a Covid lockdown. This led to more than 140 Tory MPs voting against the prime minister in June.

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said that should her British counterpart Ms Truss win the race, this could be good news for cross-Channel relations. "I do not know if Mrs Truss will be designated,” Ms Colonna told RTL radio. “If it is her, let's hope it is a new start.”

Ms Truss was criticised for saying at a campaign hustings last month that the “jury was still out” on French President Emmanuel Macron, when asked if he was a “friend or foe”.

When asked the same question, Mr Sunak said France’s leader was a “friend”.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy lauded Mr Johnson as a “true friend” of Kyiv as the prime minister prepares to leave office. In an op-ed for the Mail on Sunday, Mr Zelenskyy said he hoped the UK and Ukraine could retain “close relations” under the new administration. He told The Sunday Times it would be a “priority” to invite the new British leader to Ukraine, but said: “When we learned that there would be a change of government, all of us were concerned.”

Truss vows to 'deliver on energy crisis'

In her victory speech, Ms Truss promised to offer support to households facing mounting concerns over the rising cost of energy bills.

“During this leadership campaign, I campaigned as a Conservative and I will govern as a Conservative," she said.

“We need to show that we will deliver over the next two years.

“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.”

She also pledged to “deliver a great victory” for the Tories at the next general election, due to take place in late 2024.

“We all will deliver for our country and I will make sure that we use all the fantastic talents of the Conservative Party, our brilliant Members of Parliament and peers, our fantastic councillors, our MSs, our MSPs, all of our councillors and activists and members right across our country.

“Because, my friends, I know that we will deliver, we will deliver and we will deliver.

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

Ms Truss will be handed the keys to No 10 on Tuesday. Her first foreign trip looks set to be to the US, where she will attend the 77th session of the UN General Assembly, which will run from September 13 to 27 in New York.

Updated: September 05, 2022, 12:56 PM