New leader vows to tackle energy crisis, ailing economy

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II (left) welcomes Liz Truss during an audience at Balmoral, Scotland, where she invited the newly elected leader of the Conservative party to become prime minister and form a new government, on Tuesday, September 6.


Liz Truss became UK prime minister on Tuesday and immediately faced up to the enormous tasks ahead of her: curbing soaring prices, boosting the economy, easing labour unrest and fixing a national healthcare system burdened by long waiting lists and staff shortages.

Truss quickly began appointing senior members of her Cabinet as she tackles an inbox dominated by the energy crisis triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which threatens to push energy bills to unaffordable levels, shuttering businesses and leaving the nation’s poorest people shivering at home this winter.

Truss – Britain’s third female prime minister – named a top team diverse in gender and ethnicity, but loyal to her and her free-market politics. Kwasi Kwarteng becomes the first black UK Treasury chief, and Therese Coffey its first female deputy prime minister. Other appointments include James Cleverly as foreign secretary and Suella Braverman as home secretary, responsible for immigration and law and order.

Making her debut speech outside her new Downing Street home in a break between torrential downpours, Truss said she would cut taxes to spur economic growth, bolster the National Health Service and “deal hands-on” with the energy crisis, though she offered few details about how she would implement those policies. She is expected to unveil her energy plans on Thursday.

British news media reported that Truss plans to cap energy bills. The cost to taxpayers of that step could reach 100 billion pounds (US$116 billion).

“We shouldn’t be daunted by the challenges we face,” Truss said in her first speech as prime minister. “As strong as the storm may be, I know the British people are stronger.”

Truss, 47, took office earlier in the day at Balmoral Castle in Scotland when Queen Elizabeth II formally asked her to form a new government in a carefully choreographed ceremony dictated by centuries of tradition. Outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson formally resigned during his own audience with the queen a short time earlier, two months after he had announced his intention to step down.

It was the first time in the queen’s 70-year reign that the handover of power took place at Balmoral, rather than Buckingham Palace in London. The ceremony was moved to Scotland to provide certainty about the schedule because the 96-year-old queen has experienced problems getting around that have forced palace officials to make decisions about her travel on a day-to-day basis

Many people in Britain are still learning about their new leader, a one-time accountant who entered Parliament in 2010.

Unlike Johnson, who made himself a media celebrity long before he became prime minister, Truss rose quietly through the Conservative ranks before she was named foreign secretary, one of the top Cabinet posts, just a year ago.

Truss is under pressure to spell out how she plans to help consumers pay household energy bills that are set to rise to an average of 3,500 pounds (US$4,000) a year – triple the cost of a year ago – on October 1 unless she intervenes.

Rising food and energy prices, driven by the invasion of Ukraine and the aftershocks of COVID-19 and Brexit, have propelled UK inflation above 10 per cent for the first time in four decades. The Bank of England forecasts it will hit 13.3 per cent in October, and that the UK will slip into a prolonged recession by the end of the year.

Train drivers, port staff, garbage collectors, postal workers and lawyers have all staged strikes to demand that pay increases keep pace with inflation, and millions more, from teachers to nurses, could walk out in the next few months.

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