On 6th September, Liz Truss was appointed Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, having emerged victorious from a bitterly contested Conservative leadership contest against her former cabinet colleague Rishi Sunak.
Truss’ accession to Number 10 Downing Street comes amidst a backdrop of official public mourning following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, who passed away a mere two days after inviting Truss to form a government. Elizabeth II had served as Britain’s longest reigning monarch, and her passing has been dubbed a profound national loss in much of the mainstream British media.
The arrival of a new P.M. has intrigued pundits on both sides of the Irish sea concerned for the fragile state of peace in Northern Ireland. Truss is considered by many within her party to be a Johnson loyalist and was frequently characterised as a continuity candidate by right-wing publications such as the Telegraph and the Spectator. Truss’ cabinet is primarily composed of the hard-right Tory base of the party, which serves as the core Conservative demographic. Of particular note is the appointment of Chris Heaton-Harris as Northern Ireland Secretary, a former government chief whip and an infamously staunch Brexiteer.
In parliament, Heaton-Harris supported Truss’ legislation that sought to unilaterally override the Northern Ireland protocol, a key aspect of the U.K.’s withdrawal agreement with the European Union. The protocol sought to protect the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. Truss’ unilateral approach towards the dispute in Northern Ireland has prompted sharp rebukes from the White House, with the press secretary of the Biden administration, Karine Jean-Pierre, sternly warning that British attempts at undermining the Agreement would not create a conducive environment for positive transatlantic economic relations.
The aggressive approach pursued by recent Conservative governments towards the situation in the North has caused Irish leaders to increasingly favour multilateral solidarity with other EU. Member states, as opposed to direct bilateral engagement with a government whose behaviour is increasingly viewed as hostile.
On Education policy, Truss has chosen Kit Malthouse to serve as Secretary of State for Education. Malthouse was a known ally of Johnson and is widely perceived to be closely aligned with Truss’ right-wing ideological faction of the party. Truss’ proposed education policies have generated controversy, and she is known to support the replacement of failing academies with ‘free schools’, and the return of grammar schools. Truss has argued in favour of curricular reforms that aim to place greater emphasis on literacy and numeracy skills and ‘traditional’ subjects such as Maths and English.
On Higher Education, Truss has argued that any student who receives a minimum of 3 A’s in their A-Level exams should automatically receive interview offers at Oxford or Cambridge. An Oxford graduate herself; many have raised concerns that Truss’ education policies may leave students from lower income backgrounds behind, and that excessive emphasis has been placed on elitist institutions such as Oxford, to the detriment of other Universities and smaller institutions.
Truss’ government takes office during a highly tumultuous period in both British, and indeed global history. Following the passing of an old monarch, the former imperial power grapples with its complex identity and neo-colonial heritage in a rapidly changing, globalised world. Having only recently emerged from a devastating pandemic, the country faces the ongoing war in Ukraine, a climate emergency, industrial volatility, rail strikes, and a brutal cost-of-living crisis, with energy bills expected to rise in the coming Winter months. Truss and her newly formed cabinet face a daunting task.