Liz Truss: UK’s third female PM leaves office without India trade deal prize
Britain’s third female Prime Minister, Liz Truss, is out of office on Thursday after one of the shortest tenures at 10 Downing Street in London and without a cherished India-UK free trade agreement (FTA) under her belt as a Brexit prize.
Truss, who until Wednesday insisted in Parliament that she was a “fighter and not a quitter”, resigned after just six weeks after her position became untenable after a series of policy U-turns, Cabinet upheavals and an open revolt against her ability to lead a deeply divided Conservative Party.
Truss, who in her innings as foreign and trade minister batted for stronger bilateral ties with India, took charge at 10 Downing Street last month after defeating Indian-origin ex-chancellor Rishi Sunak in the Conservative Party leadership race.
The 47-year-old was faced with one of the toughest in-trays in the top job as a result of the spiralling cost-of-living crisis in the country, which rivalled any of the issues faced by her women predecessors in office, Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May.
She also had to contend with a fractious party that gave her a smaller margin of victory at 57 to 43 per cent than most recently elected Tory party leaders.
On the India front, the former International Trade Secretary who signed off on the India-UK Enhanced Trade Partnership (ETP) for the Boris Johnson led government in May last year, was determined to pursue the ongoing FTA negotiations towards a year-end deadline as a major post-Brexit achievement for the UK.
She has described India as a “big, major opportunity” and believes the UK and India are “in a sweet spot of the trade dynamics that are building up.”
“We are looking at a comprehensive trade agreement that covers everything, from financial services to legal services to digital and data, as well as goods and agriculture. We think there is strong possibility for us to get an early agreement, where we lower tariffs on both sides and start to see more goods flowing between our two countries,” she said soon after signing the ETP.
On the campaign trail, Truss reaffirmed that she remains “very, very committed” to strengthen bilateral ties at a hustings event of the party’s Conservative Friends of India (CFIN) diaspora group. She also committed herself to getting the India-UK FTA done, preferably by Diwali – the deadline set by predecessor Boris Johnson – but “definitely by the end of the year.”
She has repeatedly flagged enhanced defence and security cooperation with the Indo-Pacific region in order to meet her “network of liberty” goals as a counter-balance to the aggression of Russia and China and also promised to ensure the UK’s visa regime continues to attract the “best and brightest” from India.
As foreign secretary, she was at the forefront of the UK’s response to the Russia-Ukraine conflict, imposing tough sanctions and cracking down on Russian assets in the UK. It is this crisis that marked what was described as one of the worst in-trays that any new British Prime Minister has faced, given the spiralling energy costs that have triggered a cost-of-living crisis in the UK largely as a result of the ongoing conflict in Europe.
“I came into office at a time of great economic and international instability,” she said in her resignation speech.
“Families and businesses were worried about how to pay their bills. Putin’s illegal war in Ukraine threatens the security of our whole continent. And our country had been held back for too long by low economic growth. I was elected by the Conservative Party with a mandate to change this… I recognise though, given the situation, I cannot deliver the mandate on which I was elected by the Conservative Party,” she said.
While Sunak maintained that tax cuts are not the answer to get a grip on the country’s soaring inflation, Truss stood firm on her low tax pledge throughout the campaign – a move that clearly paid off with the historically low tax favouring Conservative Party base but not for long, as the UK economy spiralled into crisis.
While UK-born Sunak relied on his personal immigrant story and Indian heritage in a slick campaign run, Truss repeatedly admitted that she may not be the slickest of candidates but had a clear vision of how to “get the job done”.
Ironically, both candidates harked back to Tory grandee Margaret Thatcher as their inspiration. However, while Sunak belonged firmly to one end of the party wing as a Brexiteer, Truss was someone who had voted for the UK to remain in the European Union (EU). She was also often pulled up about her membership and campaign for the Liberal Democrats as a young Oxford University student.
However, in the end the member of Parliament for South West Norfolk went on to win over the Tory membership base, which had her as a clear frontrunner since she was elected as a finalist by her party colleagues.
Born in Oxford to a maths professor father and nurse and teacher mother, Truss grew up and lived in different parts of the UK, including Paisley in Scotland and Leeds, Kidderminster and London in England. Truss is married to accountant Hugh O’Leary with two teenage daughters.
She faced a real uphill task of governing the different parts of the United Kingdom and reigning in divisions within her own party and, clearly, it proved too much for her to contend with.