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Liz Truss is Great Britain's new prime minister, replacing Boris Johnson

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Liz Truss is Great Britain's new prime minister, replacing Boris Johnson.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER LIZ TRUSS: I campaigned as a conservative, and I will govern as a conservative.

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Truss inherits a country facing perhaps its worst economic crisis in decades. Rampant inflation, skyrocketing energy prices and perhaps an early fight with the European Union loom for the woman who is now Britain's third female prime minister, after Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May.

MARTIN: We've got reporter Willem Marx with us from London. Hey, Willem.

WILLEM MARX: Hey.

MARTIN: She's got just a little bit of work to do in this job. Has Truss identified what her top priority is?

MARX: Well, as one political analyst put it to me, it's an unenviable in-tray, Rachel. Truss has said that the government's policies to tackle Britain's energy crisis will be top of her agenda once she gets into Downing Street. For many people here facing an 8% rise in their household energy costs next month and then further jumps in the months ahead, some kind of reassurance or relief cannot come soon enough. Truss has been pretty vague about details until now, but she's under huge pressure from her party, from Parliament, from the public to ensure that people can afford to heat and light their homes this winter.

MARTIN: She's already - I mean, because she's a conservative, she's already promised to cut taxes and grow the economy. That's sort of pro forma for someone in her party. But it still seems like a really tall order, given everything that you just said and the promises that she's made to help people deal with them.

MARX: Yeah. And she's faced a lot of criticism during this campaign to become leader this summer for some of the pronouncements she's made about taxes. The conservatives have actually been in power for more than a decade, and yet taxes are, by some metrics, as high as they've ever been, set to go even higher under Boris Johnson, had he stayed in power. And that was to pay off some of the debts racked up during the pandemic. It may well be that she ends up being forced by the financial realities into taking a more centrist approach when it comes to long-term decisions about taxing, about government borrowing and about public spending.

MARTIN: So before she became prime minister, Truss was Britain's foreign secretary and a hawk, as was Boris Johnson, a supporter of Ukraine in its war with Russia. We presumably expect that support to continue, but what about other foreign policy issues? What should we expect from Liz Truss?

MARX: Well, she's been particularly vocal and hard-line about the European Union during discussions over the aftermath of Brexit, which has left the long-term trading status of Northern Ireland slightly unresolved. That could spell trouble for Britain's relationship with the European Union, but also could be a reason for Truss to rethink Westminster's relationship with Washington. That's according to Bronwen Maddox, the director and chief executive of the Chatham House think tank, which is focused on foreign affairs.

BRONWEN MADDOX: Obviously, the U.S. is, in a sense, the U.K.'s closest ally. And most prime ministers don't stand for very long in front of the steps of Downing Street without saying something like that. But Liz Truss, for one, has expressed a degree of caution about how close that relationship might be in the future. The bruising experience across the board has been Afghanistan last year, and that still hangs there.

MARTIN: The chaotic withdrawal of U.S. troops, no doubt being what she's referencing. So let me ask, though. The U.K. has been going through prime ministers at a fairly brisk rate as of late - four in the past six years, right? Is there any sense that she might have a little more longevity in the job?

MARX: Well, she's the third consecutive prime minister to take power without having to win a general election. In her speech yesterday, she hinted the idea there might be another election in 2024. People I've spoken to say unless she starts solving this energy crisis, she's going to struggle to succeed at that election.

MARTIN: Willem Marx, reporter based in London, we appreciate your reporting. Thank you, Willem.

MARX: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin
Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Willem Marx