The United Kingdom has a new prime minister.
Liz Truss, a member of the Conservative Party, officially became the U.K.’s newest head of government Tuesday.
But who is Truss, and what does her rise to power signify for the U.K. and its relationship with the United States?
Nile Gardiner, director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at The Heritage Foundation, joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to talk about how the new prime minister is likely to govern.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:
Doug Blair: My guest today is Nile Gardiner, director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom here at The Heritage Foundation. Nile, welcome to the show.
Nile Gardiner: It’s great to be here, Doug. Thank you very much having me on the show.
Blair: Absolutely. Well, exciting news from across the pond as Liz Truss has just become the new British prime minister, replacing Boris Johnson. Let’s get a quick bio on her. What is she like? What are her policies? How is she likely to lead?
Gardiner: Actually, I’ve met Liz Truss a number of times. In fact, we’ve hosted her at Heritage on a couple of occasions. Whilst the foreign secretary of the United Kingdom, she’s held multiple Cabinet roles, including also international trade secretary. She’s a very experienced politician.
She actually started off on the left, in fact, as a Liberal Democrat and later became a Conservative. She also didn’t start off as a Brexit supporter, either. In fact, she began originally opposing Brexit, but she is now, of course, a very staunch Brexiteer. I would describe Liz Truss as one of the most devout Brexiteers in the U.K. today.
So she’s determined to lead Britain into the Brexit era, following, of course, the premiership of Boris Johnson, who just stepped down today.
Liz Truss actually is ideologically a very Thatcherite politician. Even though she began her journey on the left many decades ago, she is now a staunch, ideological, Conservative Thatcherite. She’s a committed tax cutter. She believes in limited government. I would describe her as a very robust, strong, tough politician.
She’s not a particularly, I would say, showy politician. She’s not one for spin. She’s very down to earth. Unlike Boris Johnson, she doesn’t come from sort of upper-class background, actually. In fact, she was educated at a comprehensive school in the U.K. So she comes from a more sort of humble background.
She is a big admirer of Margaret Thatcher, my former boss. Of course, there’s only one Margaret Thatcher in history, but Liz Truss, I think out of all of the candidates who could have become prime minister, I think she was the most Thatcherite of all of the candidates. So I’m very optimistic about her leadership.
It’s a very tough situation that she faces in Britain today, I mean, immense challenges, but I think that she’s the best person for this job right now.
Blair: Excellent. Well, that is actually sort of a next question, is that Boris Johnson left certain issues unresolved, obviously, in his retirement. Truss basically mentioned that one of the first things she wanted to attack was the energy situation in the U.K. What are her plans for that specifically?
Gardiner: Yeah. So, the energy crisis, it’s real, it’s very big in the U.K. And it’s the result, I think, of decades of failed energy policies, basically.
So the U.K.’s not in a position that is as bad as, say, that of Germany or France or Italy or the big European Union countries who are very heavily dependent on Russia. So the U.K. isn’t dependent upon Russian energy. But what you have had in the U.K. over the course of many decades has been a failure to develop alternative sources of energy.
British administrations have not supported fracking, for example. They have not strongly backed nuclear power. So as a result, energy prices today are rising very significantly, in part due to the war in Ukraine and the Russian invasion, but also because of long-standing failures, I think, in strategic thinking with regard to energy independence and energy development.
So Liz Truss has to address all this as prime minister.
The British public faces a rise in energy prices from about 2,000 pounds a household per year at the moment to around 3,500 pounds, or $4,000, actually, in real terms. So that’s a lot of money for a British household.
So Liz Truss has to address that. I hope she’ll use free market solutions to do so, but there’s already talk, of course, of an energy cap being introduced. Not ideal, I think, for a Conservative prime minister to be bringing that in, but that’s a sign of just how desperate the situation is.
But she has so ruled out a windfall tax on energy companies. That’s a good move. So she’s not in favor of any new taxes, but you may see some kind of price cap on energy. And that works through a credit fund that is established, backed by the British treasury, but is actually put in place by private banks in the U.K.
So it’s a complicated process, but it does avoid, though, actually introducing taxes on energy companies, which I think would be very destructive. Liz Truss has ruled that out.
Blair: Right. OK. So it sounds like she’s planning on leading a lot like Maggie Thatcher did. So I guess my next question would be based on that. Maggie Thatcher and the United States had a very close relationship. Obviously, [Ronald] Reagan and Thatcher were very good friends and they kind of viewed the world similarly. Do we see that Truss is probably going to have a similar type of transatlantic relationship as Margaret Thatcher did?
Gardiner: Yeah, that’s a great question. Clearly, she would like to emulate Margaret Thatcher. I would say, though, that Margaret Thatcher would not support price caps and that sort of thing, but the British government’s in such a desperate state that they’re considering that. But that’s not something that Margaret Thatcher would’ve necessarily supported in any way.
But in terms of the overall transatlantic alliance, Liz Truss is a big supporter of the U.S.-U.K. special relationship, but at the same time, she’s acutely aware of the fact that [President] Joe Biden has been very difficult on British issues. In fact, he’s tried to undermine the U.K. over the Northern Ireland Protocol issue, lecturing the U.K. on this issue. He’s been very bad on Brexit.
Joe Biden has been, in my view, a disastrous U.S. president on the world stage. There are many British Conservative MPs who share that view, that the Biden presidency has been absolutely disastrous in terms of international leadership, or lack of it.
So Liz Truss, I think she will approach the U.S. presidency with a very clear-eyed stance. She will not be afraid to stand up to Joe Biden and she’ll stand up for British interest.
I think she will be a lot less willing to defer to Joe Biden as opposed to Boris Johnson. Boris Johnson really always liked to avoid any conflict. He didn’t want to pick a fight with Joe Biden over Northern Ireland, for example. I think Liz Truss would be willing to stand her ground a lot more.
And that’s what she should do. She shouldn’t be listening to lectures from Joe Biden or [U.S. House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi about British policy on Northern Ireland Brexit. It’s none of their business. I expect Truss will be tougher than Boris Johnson has been, which is a good thing.
Blair: Should Americans be expecting maybe a split between the U.K. and the U.S.?
Gardiner: Well, I think that—so Liz Truss will be coming to Washington and New York in late September. She’ll be speaking at the U.N. General Assembly. There will be certainly a meeting with Biden, I think, at the White House.
The U.S.-U.K. partnership is incredibly important and there will be close cooperation over issues such as Russia, Ukraine, for example, and a joint U.S.-British position in confronting the Russian threat.
But Truss, I think, will tell Joe Biden not to interfere over British policy on Northern Ireland. And I think she’ll get that message loud and clear across Joe Biden. If Biden wants to pick a fight over it, that’s his issue, but I think Truss is going to be robust here. And that’s the right approach because Joe Biden really has a lack of respect for U.S. allies, I think, and he needs to be told to back off.
Blair: Definitely. Returning to more domestic British issues, there were a couple of high-profile departures from the U.K. government as she took over, which included Home Secretary Priti Patel. Is that a normal kind of thing that happens when a new prime minister takes over or was that a sort of indication that we’re shifting in policy?
Gardiner: It’s normal for a new prime minister to bring in an entirely new Cabinet, and I suspect that the new Cabinet will be very different to the Boris Johnson Cabinet with the exception of, I think, one or two people will still be in place.
Ben Wallace as defense actually probably stays in place, but there are big changes. And if you look at the three high offices of state, the home secretary, foreign secretary, and chancellor of exchequer, they’re all going to be new, I think, appointments.
So Priti Patel, a very good friend of Heritage, who gave a big speech here in November, she had just stepped down as home secretary. You will also see a new foreign secretary and chancellor of exchequer.
The new home secretary is expected to be Suella Braverman, who’s been attorney general, who’s actually very good, I think. James Cleverly is expected to be the foreign secretary and the new chancellor is expected to be Kwasi Kwarteng, who’s currently the business secretary. So these are all very strong Thatcherites.
I think a new Cabinet will be great, but some old friends will be stepping down, including Priti Patel, who’s been a tremendous friend of The Heritage Foundation over many years.
Blair: Right. But it doesn’t sound like the policy direction necessarily will be changing too much or—
Gardiner: No, no. I mean, I think policy remains broadly the same. The U.K. has a big immigration challenge, illegal immigration challenge. You’ve seen tens of thousands of illegal migrants crossing the English Channel from France over the course of the last couple of years. And the new home secretary has to address that. It’s a huge issue in the U.K.
It doesn’t help that you’ve got Emmanuel Macron in office as a French president who deliberately tries to undermine Britain at every opportunity. So Macron is a big part of the problem. It’s striking that you have large numbers of illegal migrants from France, escaping France to get into the United Kingdom. But they’re not coming over illegally, I mean, they are illegal migrants, and they have to be stopped.
Blair: Right. And Truss has acknowledged that that is something that she’s going to face.
Gardiner: Yeah, she’s very hard-line on this issue, as she should be. And securing Britain’s board is a very top priority for the new administration.
Blair: Absolutely. In terms of social issues as well, we’ve seen that Truss has kind of fought back against maybe woke ideology or things like that.
So she was asked last month whether trans women were women during a debate, and she said pretty explicitly that, no, trans women are not women. How has she responded also to maybe the other rising tides of wokeism in the United Kingdom?
Gardiner: So, Liz Truss is very anti-woke, and she has spoken on the campaign trail a number of times about her determination to defeat wokeism. She really has to put that into practice because I think the woke left have taken over so many of Britain’s institutions.
Even if you look at Britain Civil Service, there’s wokeism running right through it, for example. The use of pronouns by a lot of British civil servants that you’ll see on their emails and so on, I think that Liz Truss would like to stamp that out.
The British government, one of the big positives I think about the Boris Johnson administration on the cultural front was their determination to root out critical race theory in schools.
So Kemi Badenoch, in fact, a minister under Boris Johnson, was a key figure in banning CRT in British schools. So I expect that Liz Truss government’s going to double down on that.
So CRT is regarded by the British government as unwelcome and fundamentally racist. So you will not see that in British schools, definitely, under a Liz Truss administration.
So I think on the cultural front, very positive, the messaging that Truss is sending on CRT, sending on the trans issue as well. Trans women are not women. And that’s a commonsense reality that the British government acknowledges. Complete difference to what the Biden administration is saying.
And the Biden presidency is far woke left. The British government is very, very Conservative on these issues. And that’s a big difference between the two.
Blair: Absolutely. I’m curious as well because you mentioned that Truss started out as a Liberal Democrat and that she sort of transitioned into a position where she was more Conservative. When did we see that change happen? And do we think it’s going to stick?
Gardiner: Yeah, I mean, that happened many decades ago. I mean, she was a Liberal Democrat activist in her youth and her student days. It’s not uncommon, actually, for some Conservatives to start off on the left. Even Ronald Reagan started off on the left.
So Liz Truss, I mean, she is very, very strong, solid Conservative now. She’s been a strong Conservative for many decades. But also, very importantly, she’s a very, very robust Brexit supporter. She didn’t start off that way, but she is now. She has pledged to make Britain a real world leader in the Brexit era.
So yeah, I’m very optimistic, positive about the Liz Truss premiership, but I’m under no illusions with regard to just how immense the challenges are.
Also, some things need to be fixed. The environmental green agenda of the Boris Johnson administration was fundamentally unhelpful for Britain. So Liz Truss really needs to rethink all that. And the net-zero strategy is very destructive for the British economy. And I do hope the new administration’s going to walk that back, but we’ll see what happens on that.
Blair: Right. Actually, to that point, there were some criticisms of the Johnson administration that he campaigned from the right and then governed from the left. It sounds like, from what you’re saying, that’s not really a concern with Liz Truss, at least in what she demonstrated as of right now.
Gardiner: Yeah. I think with Boris, he was a very mixed bag in terms of overall policies. And Boris is instinctively Conservative, but if you look at a lot of the environmental agendas, left wing, actually. And in some areas as well, there’s too much government spending under Johnson. Taxes rose, economic freedom declined, all of that has to be addressed and reversed.
But Boris was great on Brexit. He was great in standing up to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin over Ukraine. So there are a lot of positives for Boris Johnson, but some big negatives as well.
So Liz Truss, I think, is ideologically more of a Conservative prime minister, but she’s got to live up to that. And she will be held to account by her own Conservative supporters who put her in power.
Blair: Sure. As one final question here, as we’re talking about Boris Johnson, his government was seemingly taken down by a series of scandals. There was Partygate. There was that thing with the member of Parliament who was accused of sexual assault. Do we anticipate any of those scandals sticking to Truss as a result of her being from the same party?
Gardiner: I don’t think so. Truss is a lot more, I think, disciplined in terms of how she’s going to manage things in Downing Street. I think Partygate is becoming a little distant memory, really. But ultimately, Boris Johnson should have dealt with all of these issues much earlier, and his failure to do so was a big part in his downfall.
I think Liz Truss in Downing Street is very different, actually. It’s also going to be more, I would say, more solidly Conservative. You look at the advisers around Liz Truss, very, very good people. And I think that there are very high expectations for this administration. I think with Boris Johnson’s government, there’s a mixture of Conservative, some Liberals as well. So it’s different with Liz Truss, and this is a very solidly Conservative administration.
Blair: Excellent. Well, we look forward to seeing what new Prime Minister Truss will do. That was Nile Gardiner, director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom here at The Heritage Foundation. Nile, it’s always a pleasure to have you on.
Gardiner: It’s my pleasure. Thanks very much, Doug.
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