While maintaining a very clear position on Russia or China, the new British Prime Minister is also inflexible about the European Union on Brexit, saying that she is ready to break the protocol on Northern Ireland. The decision is in force, which can finally undermine the credibility of the United Kingdom in the international arena.
She is often compared to Margaret Thatcher, a champion of free trade and far-right speeches. But Liz Truss also shares with the historic icon of the Conservative Party a vision of a foreign policy marked by the Cold War and competition between great powers.
The approach, which some might consider an anachronism, but which is increasingly less discussed in the eyes of conservatives after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, revealed the naivety of the West in the face of Moscow’s revanchism.
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When the Cold War ended, the West thought “the battle was over,” but in reality, “they never stopped fighting,” Liz Truss said in a May interview with The Atlantic magazine.
Now experts expect Truss to continue the case of Boris Johnson, who made Britain one of the biggest arms suppliers to Ukraine, providing full support to Kiev since the start of the Russian offensive.
Hardness towards Russia and China
As foreign minister, Liz Truss never compromised on the Ukrainian dossier. During a speech delivered in April, the new prime minister even expressed a desire for Russia to leave “the entire Ukrainian territory”, i.e. also Crimea and the part of Donbas annexed by Moscow in 2014. Russia must be “strategically defeated,” she insisted in June.
According to Liz Truss, the Minsk agreements, concluded in 2014 and 2015 by France and Germany, are a fundamental mistake: they would have offered Moscow a check-book for annexation without ending hostilities in eastern Ukraine.
“She wants to embody a prime minister whose voice is heard abroad, and I think that her position on Ukraine helps her,” said Richard Whitman, a professor of international relations at the University of Kent. “It fits perfectly with the image she’s trying to portray, which is nostalgic for the days of Margaret Thatcher.”
If Truss continues the direct line of her predecessor on the Ukrainian dossier, she, on the other hand, may take an even tougher stance on China. Last week, one of her aides told The Times that Liz Truss would officially declare China a “threat” to national security after taking up her Downing Street post. “There will be no more economic partnership,” the new prime minister assured.
According to Liz Truss, the Ukrainian conflict should be a lesson for the West regarding the Taiwan dossier. The international community “should have ensured Ukraine’s defense capability much earlier” to deter any attempts at Russian intervention. “A similar approach” must be considered with Taiwan, concludes the new prime minister.
“The UK’s foreign policy towards China will become tougher under Liz Truss. His approach is very much in line with that of the United States (…), even if Washington has reservations about its positioning in Europe, especially regarding Northern Ireland. “, – analyzes Richard Whitman.
Truss’ Dilemma Regarding Northern Ireland
The new prime minister wants to unilaterally change the Brexit deal for Northern Ireland, removing certain customs controls to make it easier for goods to move.
The Northern Ireland Protocol was agreed between London and Brussels to address the sensitive issue of the border between Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland, a member of the European Union. It was intended to achieve a dual goal: to protect the integrity of the European single market and to avoid a land border that could undermine the 1998 peace.
In line with Britain’s exit from the EU, the Johnson government has accepted that Northern Ireland must remain de facto in the European market by establishing a customs border in the Irish Sea with controls and formalities. A situation that complicates supplies for the United Kingdom and angers unionists and parts of the British political class.
However, the EU maintains that the Brexit deal is legally binding and that Boris Johnson’s government, of which Liz Truss was a member, ratified it in 2020. According to Nicoletta Pirozzi, an expert on European affairs, Liz Truss enters Downing Street in a “difficult situation where she has to please the Brexit hardliners in her party while maintaining the UK’s credibility internationally, especially vis-à-vis the administration Biden.”
Deteriorated relations with the EU
It remains to be seen whether Prime Minister Liz Truss will be any different from Conservative Party candidate Liz Truss once in power. Moreover, the former foreign minister was not always an ardent Eurosceptic – she advocated for Great Britain to remain in the EU in 2016.
“It’s hard to tell if his very tough talk on Northern Ireland is sincere, or if it’s positioning in the long-running battle for control of the Conservative Party, a battle that started long before Boris Johnson resigned,” analyzes Tim Bale. , Professor of Political Science at Queen Mary University of London.
“I think the Truss is much more nuanced than many people realize,” says Georgina Wright, head of the European program at the Institut Montaigne. “But she tends to draw a distinction between special deals and Brexit negotiations. So she may have to work with the EU or member states on certain topics, but one question remains: can she really opt out of Brexit? at these negotiations?
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In addition, some of Liz Truss’ statements appear to bode ill for the relationship between the UK and the European Union. In August, when asked at a press conference whether France was a “friend or enemy” country, Liz Truss preferred the connection.
An ambiguous attitude, which was difficult to imagine in the time of his heroine Margaret Thatcher, whose doctrine consisted in maintaining a balance between proximity to Washington and friendly relations with European countries.
“Margaret Thatcher was stubborn not just for fun. She built relationships to get something. She won European summits early in her tenure, earning the respect of her interlocutors as a negotiator rather than a “stubborn refusal to engage in dialogue,” says Richard. Whitman. “The question for Truss is whether she intends to push an agenda or is just posing.”
Article adapted from English by Gregoire Sauvage. The original can be found here.