Liz Truss: who is the UK’s new prime minister?

Former foreign secretary has beaten rival Rishi Sunak to become Tory leader

Liz Truss leaves Conservative Party Headquarters after being elected as the new Tory party leader and incoming prime minister
Liz Truss leaves Conservative Party Headquarters after being elected as the new Tory party leader and incoming prime minister
(Image credit: Carl Court/Getty Images)

After eight weeks of mud-slinging and promise-making, Liz Truss has won the contest to succeed Boris Johnson as prime minister.

The former foreign secretary beat rival Rishi Sunak by securing 57% of the vote, racking up 81,326 to his 60,399 – a lower margin than any previous Tory leader chosen by party members. She will be handed the keys to No. 10 tomorrow after being formally appointed by the Queen at Balmoral as Britain’s third female PM, after Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May.

In her victory speech, Truss thanked Johnson for getting Brexit “done”, “crushing” Jeremy Corbyn, rolling out the Covid-19 vaccine and standing up to Vladimir Putin. “You were admired from Kyiv to Carlisle,” she added, to noticeably muted applause from the audience of Tory MPs and activists in Westminster’s QEII centre. She also appeared to quash speculation of an early general election, pledging to “deliver a great victory for the Conservative Party in 2024”.

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What will Truss do as PM?

Truss is taking over as UK leader amid mounting calls for action to tackle the cost-of-living crisis. In her victory speech, she pledged to deal “with the long term issues we have on energy supply” and to deliver a “bold plan” to cut taxes and grow the economy.

Once officially installed as in No. 10, Truss is expected to “move rapidly” to set out her new economic policy, The Times reported. According to the paper, she will announce a “vast support package” to deal with surging energy costs. And sources reportedly said that senior Tories lining up for appointments in her cabinet had been told “in no uncertain terms” to remain open to the idea of a gas and electricity price freeze, with Truss “allies and officials” already in talks with energy industry leaders.

Truss has also promised to deliver around £30bn in tax cuts in an emergency budget later this month that is expected to include a reversal of April’s rise to National Insurance.

In an interview with the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg on Sunday, Truss was pressed on whether higher earners would benefit more from the expected cuts. “The people at the top of the income distribution pay more tax – so inevitably, when you cut taxes you tend to benefit people who are more likely to pay tax,” she said.

The former foreign secretary added that to “look at everything through the lens of redistribution” is “wrong” and that her priority was “growing the economy”.

“The economic debate for the past 20 years has been dominated by discussions about distribution... and what's happened is we've had relatively low growth,” she told Kuenssberg, before being mocked by a fellow guest.

Truss’s early life

Truss was born in Oxford and was the second of five children. Her father was a maths professor at Leeds University and her mother worked as a nurse and teacher, while also serving as an active member in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

In a 2012 interview with The Times, Truss described her parents as “to the left of Labour” and said that she “never met a single Tory” during her childhood.

Her own political allegiances gradually shifted, however. While studying philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford, Truss was president of the university’s Liberal Democrats and a member of the national executive committee of the party’s youth wing. A speech at the party’s 1994 conference in which she expressed anti-monarchist sentiments has repeatedly gone semi-viral on Twitter.

She later decided to run for election as a Conservative, and “her pragmatic mother came to help”, while “her father stayed at home to mow the lawn”, the paper reported. Truss said that she “gradually moved to the right of politics because I realised that the Tory party was saying quite sane things”.

Parliamentary career

Truss joined the Conservative Party in 1996, after graduating from university. Before beginning her political career, Truss worked for oil giant Shell as a commercial manager and for telecommunications company Cable & Wireless as economics director.

She lost her first two bids to become an MP, in 2001 and in 2005, but won the seat of South West Norfolk in 2010.

She has since served as justice secretary – a role she “bombed in”, according to The Times’ Charlotte Edwardes – and as international trade secretary and foreign secretary, as well as holding a series of junior ministerial roles across Whitehall.

Matt Hancock’s resignation in June 2021 made Truss the longest-serving member of the cabinet, having held various posts under three prime ministers.

Under Johnson, she positioned herself as “the last true Tory”, said Edwardes, and set herself apart from her colleagues by making it clear that “she alone in cabinet” argued against his “manifesto-breaking £14bn increase in National Insurance”.

Last December, Truss was tasked with resolving the ongoing issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol after David Frost quit as Brexit minister. Some suggested that taking over the Brexit brief could turn out to be a “poisoned chalice”.

Truss has “a lot of jobs”, said the BBC’s Brussels correspondent Jessica Parker. As well as being foreign secretary, Truss was minister for women and equalities, Parker noted, and becoming lead negotiator with the EU on the Northern Ireland Protocol “is a monster brief”.

The Financial Times reported last month that tensions had been flaring between Truss and Johnson as he “prepared to publish legislation that would enable the UK government to rip up parts of its 2020 Brexit treaty with the EU”.

The PM ended up snapping at the foreign secretary, “accusing her of toughening up draft legislation… after pressure from Eurosceptic Tory MPs”, people briefed on the meeting of cabinet ministers told the paper.

Truss has also come under fire over her role in the Ukraine crisis. She was criticised for encouraging Brits to join the fight against the Russians and for describing Russia’s Vladimir Putin as a “rogue operator” – a move that risked “recklessly inflaming Ukraine’s war to serve her own ambition”, said Simon Jenkins in The Guardian.

Writing in the Daily Mail in July, Truss vowed to “immediately” cut taxes and drive “enterprise-boosting, business-friendly Conservative policy through the Whitehall Blob”.

She promised to “beat Labour in 2024 by governing as a true tax-cutting, freedom-loving Conservative” and “reject dehumanising identity politics, cancel culture and the voices of decline”.

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