From grief to crises: UK PM pivots to growing woes


The flowers have been erased. The Union Jacks no longer fly at half mast. Advertisements have replaced the image of Queen Elizabeth II on bus shelters. A day after burying their revered monarch, Britons returned to normal life on Tuesday to deal with a torrent of pressing issues they had put aside in 10 days of mourning.

Hours after the funeral ended, Prime Minister Liz Truss left for New York, where she is holding a series of diplomatic meetings on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly that could set the tone for Britain’s relationship with the United States and the European Union while she is stationed.


At home, his government will launch major initiatives this week to tackle the range of economic and social problems facing Britain: soaring energy costs; galloping inflation; pressure on public services, including the National Health Service; higher interest rates; and the specter of a recession.

While the Queen’s death on September 8 catapulted Truss onto the world stage, giving her a spokesperson role before hundreds of world leaders at the funeral at Westminster Abbey, it also disrupted her start-up plan, with Parliament suspended just days after moving in. Downing Street.

On Wednesday, Truss is due to meet President Joe Biden and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. On Tuesday, she met French President Emmanuel Macron, whom she declined to call friend or foe during his recent campaign to lead the Conservative Party.

En route to New York, Truss told reporters that Britain no longer expected to negotiate a trade deal with the United States in the “short to medium term”. On one level, it was just an admission of what has long been clear. But analysts said it was also designed to remove any leverage the Biden administration has to pressure Britain to resolve a dispute with the EU over Northern Ireland trade.

With a transatlantic trade deal off the table, these analysts said, Truss could take a tougher line in negotiations with Brussels over post-Brexit trade deals in the North. Those talks have stalled and Britain has introduced legislation that could upend the current rules it negotiated and agreed to, stoking fears that tensions could escalate into a full-blown trade war.

“The objective was effectively to neutralize American influence on the protocol issue,” said Mujtaba Rahman, an analyst at Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy, referring to the legal construct that governs trade in Northern Ireland. North. “There is less reason for her not to take a hard line with the EU.”

Truss argued Brussels needed to agree to major changes to the protocol to address trade disruption and political paralysis resulting from its deal over Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK but shares an open border with Ireland. neighbor, member of the EU.

To keep this border open, Britain had agreed to controls on goods moving from mainland Britain to Northern Ireland. But this arrangement alienated the main pro-unionist party in the North, which refused to participate in a power-sharing government until Britain refounded it. The legislation, which Truss introduced as Foreign Secretary, would lead to Britain unilaterally scrapping the rules.

The White House has repeatedly warned Britain not to take any action that would undermine the Good Friday Agreement, which ended decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. Biden, who values ​​his Irish heritage, brought it up during his first call with Truss after she became prime minister.

The two leaders discussed “the importance of reaching a negotiated agreement with the European Union on the Northern Ireland Protocol,” the White House said in a reading of the conversation. In its reading of the same phone call, Downing Street did not mention resolving the dispute with Brussels.

The problem, Rahman said, is that the gaps between Britain and the EU are so wide they may escape settlement. Truss owes his recent victory in the Tory leadership race in part to support from Brexit hardliners in his party, who do not want a deal with Brussels.

“This is where political reality can bite,” he said. “There may simply not be a landing zone, given the objectives sought by the government.”

Simon Fraser, a former senior British Foreign Office official, said Truss should use his meetings in New York to “calm the mood with the EU and move on with Macron”. The funeral may have created a mechanism for this.

On Thursday, new Health Secretary Therese Coffey will tackle another threat: growing pressure on Britain’s National Health Service, which is struggling to cope with a huge backlog of healthcare due to the pandemic.

But the main domestic push is set to come on Friday when new Chancellor of the Exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng outlines his plan to revive economic growth and how he can fund his promises to protect consumers and businesses from soaring energy costs. while reducing taxes.

Fears that fiscal discipline will be sacrificed have put pressure on the pound, which is trading at its lowest level against the dollar since 1985. This, in turn, threatens to raise the cost of imported goods, undermining efforts to the Bank of England to rein in inflation as it braces for another likely interest rate hike on Thursday.

Details of the government’s agenda are also sure to spark protests, including a plan to lift the cap on bankers’ bonuses, which critics say is insensitive at a time when many Britons are facing financial hardship.

Ending a moratorium on fracking, another of Truss’ pledges, is sure to be controversial even as the government says it will only allow shale gas extraction with the consent of local communities.

And Kwarteng’s decision to dismiss a highly respected senior Treasury official, Tom Scholar, has also alarmed some skeptics who fear the new government is unwilling to listen to advice.

On Tuesday, Truss defended her economic plans, telling the BBC she was prepared to make “tough decisions”, such as lifting the cap on bankers’ bonuses, to foster economic growth. His plans to cut energy bills would reduce inflation, she added.

Despite the disruptions, the solemn events of the past 10 days allowed Truss to present himself to the public in a non-partisan way, meet more foreign leaders and give his team the opportunity to refine some key policies.

“It gave them a bit more time to fill in the details and sort things out,” said Jill Rutter, a former civil servant and senior researcher at the Institute for Government, a London-based research group. “The question is whether they were able to use that time when they weren’t being forced into TV studios.”

Now Rutter has said, “The initial verdict on his premiership will come in the next few days.”

(Written by Mark Landler and Stephen Castle)