Liz Truss on Tuesday promised that Britain would see sunnier days ahead despite the current economic gloom, as she made her first speech as prime minister after taking over from Boris Johnson.
Heavy rain and thunder forced supporters of the country’s third female prime minister to scramble for cover as they waited for her to arrive in Downing Street. But the clouds lifted as the 47-year-old former foreign secretary’s motorcade swept in, and she vowed that the country would “ride out the storm” of double-digit inflation and soaring energy prices.
“I will take action this week to deal with energy bills and to secure our future energy supply,” she said. “As strong as the storm may be, I know that the British people are stronger,” she added, outlining her priorities as the economy, energy and health.
According to the White House, United States President Joe Biden said he will call the new British PM after she officially took over from Boris Johnson. Truss was announced winner of an internal vote of Conservative party members on Monday, after a gruelling contest that began with Johnson’s resignation in July.
She arrived in Downing Street after a 1,600-km round trip from London to see Queen Elizabeth II in the Scottish Highlands, where she accepted the invitation to form a government. The 30-minute audience was held at the head of state’s remote Balmoral retreat as the queen, 96, was deemed unfit to return to London due to ill health.
As soon as Thursday, Truss is expected to sanction a freeze on household energy bills to prevent steep hikes this winter, and possibly beyond, at a cost of tens of billions of pounds.
Her new team is due to be assembled in time for a cabinet meeting on Wednesday morning before her first appearance in parliament as prime minister. Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng is expected to become finance minister, with attorney general Suella Braverman moved to the tricky brief of home secretary, and James Cleverly to foreign affairs.
If confirmed, it would mean no white men in any of Britain’s four main ministerial posts for the first time ever. The incoming PM faces a daunting to-do list, with the UK in the grip of its worst economic crisis in decades.
Hard-pressed households facing 80-per cent increases in electricity and gas bills from October have demanded immediate action to prevent millions being forced to choose between heating and eating this winter. Businesses have also warned they could be forced to close because of even steeper hikes in energy costs.
Truss, who touts herself as a free-market liberal, has promised tax cuts to stimulate growth despite warnings that greater borrowing could make inflation worse. The contrast to her beaten leadership rival Rishi Sunak’s more cautious approach has opened another rift in the Conservative party that was already divided by Johnson’s departure.
Recent opinion polls suggest a sizeable chunk of the British public have no faith in her ability to tackle the cost-of-living crisis. A new poll by YouGov said only 14 per cent expect Truss — the fourth Tory PM in six years — to do a better job than Johnson.
Johnson, whose tenure was dominated by Brexit and Covid and cut short by a succession of scandals, earlier promised Truss his unswerving support as he made a farewell speech in Downing Street. “I will be supporting Liz Truss and the new government every step of the way,” he said, before leaving for Balmoral to tender his resignation to the queen.
He urged the Tories to put aside their ideological differences which have seen the party fight like cats and dogs over how best to tackle the energy crisis. “If Dilyn (his dog) and Larry (the Downing Street cat) can put behind them their occasional difficulties then so can the Conservative party,” he added.
But former newspaper polemicist Johnson failed to dampen speculation that he is eyeing a potential return to the political front line. “Like Cincinnatus, I am returning to my plough,” he said. Latin scholars were quick to point out that the Roman statesman eventually returned to politics.
Johnson, 58, remains popular among grassroots Tories as a charismatic election winner who took the country out of the European Union. Despite repeated accusations of corruption and cronyism during his tenure, and an unprecedented police fine for breaking his own lockdown rules, Johnson is said to be smarting at having to leave.
Speculation has swirled that he could bide his time for a comeback, particularly if Truss struggles to overcome the country’s many problems. In her acceptance speech on Monday, Truss ruled out seeking her own mandate from the public at an early general election, vowing victory in 2024.
Biden to call Truss
President Joe Biden will call new British Prime Minister Liz Truss on Tuesday, the White House said. “He’s planning to call her to congratulate her,” Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters.
Biden tweeted “I look forward to deepening the special relationship between our countries and working in close cooperation on global challenges, including continued support for Ukraine as it defends itself against Russian aggression.”
Jean-Pierre said Biden would press for London to protect the Northern Ireland peace deal known as the Good Friday Agreement from being disrupted by Britain’s exit from the European Union. “He has been clear about his continued interest in Northern Ireland,” she said. “Our priority remains protecting the gains of the… Good Friday Agreement and preserving peace, stability and prosperity” for Northern Ireland.
Jean-Pierre said Biden was also “working closely with our allies,” including Britain, on the growing energy crisis in Europe after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Moscow is “weaponizing energy,” she said.
Key points of first speech by Truss
Truss set out three “early priorities” for her government in her first speech. Here are the key points of her speech:
“We need to build roads, homes and broadband faster.
“We need more investment and great jobs in every town and city across our country.
“We will transform Britain into an aspiration nation… with high-paying jobs, safe streets and where everyone everywhere has the opportunities they deserve.
“I have a bold plan to grow the economy through tax cuts and reform.”
“We will get spades in the ground to make sure people are not facing unaffordable energy bills.
“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.”
“I will make sure that people can get doctors’ appointments and the NHS services they need. We will put our health service on a firm footing.”