Liz Truss is a busy woman. The erstwhile Secretary for International Trade was handed a promotion in September, reaching one of the great offices of state as Foreign Secretary. Despite her rise to what most people would see as a full time role, Truss retained the Women and Equalities brief she had held since September 2019. This week, her one-woman crusade to solve the nation’s labour shortage continued with her appointment to the role of Chief Negotiator of Task Force Europe following David Frost’s resignation.
Making the case for free trade after voting to put up barriers
Truss hasn’t hesitated to pick up where her predecessor left off, making impossible demands based on implausible assumptions. In a statement following her first call with opposite number Maroš Šefčovič, she emphasised the need for ‘goods to flow freely between Great Britain and Northern Ireland’ and to ‘end the role of the ECJ’ in dispute settlement — both unfeasible within the framework of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement her government negotiated and signed.
She also reiterated the threat to trigger Article 16 of the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol to deal with ‘the very real problems faced in Northern Ireland’. So real, in fact, are these problems, that recent polls suggest a majority of people in Northern Ireland support the Protocol — perhaps no wonder given the country’s now unique access to UK and EU markets.
The MP for South West Norfolk may seem like a natural Brexiteer — a known free market exponent, she founded the Free Enterprise Group of Conservative MPs, and was a co-author of the notorious pamphlet Britannia Unchained,which decried Britain’s ‘bloated state, high taxes and excessive regulation’.
But she hasn’t always felt that ‘Global Britain’ was better achieved outside the EU. In the lead-up to the 2016 Referendum, Truss enthusiastically campaigned for Remain, arguing it was ‘in Britain’s economic interests’.
Her reasoning? “I don’t want my daughters to grow up in a world where they need a visa or permit to work in Europe; or where they are hampered from growing a business because of extortionate call costs and barriers to trade.”
Truss famously tweeted that ‘Leave cannot name one country we would get a better trade deal with if we left the EU’ — more than a little ironic given her role as cheerleader-in-chief for roll-over deals during the past year.
The apparent contradiction in Truss’s position was neatly captured in an excruciating interview with Eddie Mair of LBC, who asked her whether a second referendum might be warranted given that some people had changed their minds on Brexit. When Truss responded that she didn’t think people had changed their minds, Mair pointed out that Truss herself had changed her mind. She replied, as if realising it for the first time: “I have, that’s true.”