Liz Truss has had a start to the top job like no other. In the space of little more than a fortnight, she was sworn in by the late Queen, only to be plunged into a ten-day period of national mourning for Her Majesty, and come out the other side to a UN debut where she had to address nuclear threats from Russia. It’s hard to imagine how a leader could have a more noteworthy introduction to the international stage. But amongst the drama and ceremony of the past two weeks, what have we learned about the kind of world leader Truss is going to be?
When it comes to her stance on the war on Ukraine we aren’t seeing a huge shift in the Johnson’s administration approach. In fact, Truss’ increase defence spending to 3 percent of national income by 2030 will be a welcome commitment for many. However, Truss still has plenty of work to do on the international stage, particularly on issues where we don’t see eye to eye with some of our closest allies.
The long, drawn-out Brexit process continues to rear its ugly head three PMs after the decision to leave was made. With Biden keen to settle issues around the Northern Ireland Protocol, there are worries from Washington that Truss’ appetite to get a into a spat with the EU over the hard trade border will spark a trade war at a time when unity is key. It seems that in order to safeguard our special relationship with the US, Truss may have to close the loop on one of Brexit’s trickiest issues. Truss has taken the first steps in doing this, committing to settling the issue before the 25th Anniversary of the Good Friday peace deal next Easter in a meeting with Biden at the fringes of the UN this week – perhaps a commitment easier said than done.
Though a promise to Biden on this issue may have gone some way to quelling tensions with the White House, Truss is also already in a tricky position with those across the channel. Things got off to a rather frosty start after her “friend or foe” comments during the leadership race, so Truss has been trying to smooth things over with Macron in her first bilateral with him at the UN this week. The French President extended an olive branch and put the incident behind them as the pair discussed energy security in the light of Ukraine. But two of the biggest Anglo-Franco issues of recent years – again, the Northern Ireland Protocol, and migration issues across the channel – were notably absent from their chat.
However, Truss has been warmer than some may have expected on Macron’s ideas to address the most pressing issue facing the EU. Despite Truss’ scepticism about committing to France’s proposed “European Political Community”, which aims to bring together the region in the face of Russia, the UK’s potential involvement is still on the table. Putting aside her initial doubts to join such a group could go some way to restoring relations with Europe in a post-Brexit world, and with Paris in particular.
If these first two weeks are anything to go by, the only thing we know for sure is that the backdrop of the war in Ukraine and the economic instability that goes with it look certain to define Truss’ time in Number 10. Her initially cautious approach, smoothing things over with our traditional allies, seems like a good first step for her time at the helm, and echoes the need for a steady approach to diplomacy in these turbulent times.