New faces, old problems

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Britain’s fourth British Prime Minister since 2016 started her political career as an accountant and a political moderate but is now leading one of the most right-wing governments in British history.

Liz Truss – born Mary Elizabeth Truss in Oxford – became a member of the Liberal Democrats while studying in the same city. She joined the Conservatives upon graduation and in 2010 was elected MP in the safe seat of South West Norfolk, in eastern England.

She entered parliament as part of a “modernising” set of Tory election candidates under the then Conservative leader, David Cameron. Despite facing occasional criticism for her stilted speaking style and narcissistic photo-shoots, she has risen up through the ranks to Foreign Minister and now to the very top of the British government.

A remainer during the 2016 referendum, she reinvented herself as a passionate supporter of Brexit, winning the backing of many Tory MPs who had been on the opposing side. She has styled herself as an ideologically capitalist in the tradition of Margaret Thatcher and established herself as an ultra-loyalist to Johnson before betraying him in July.

As Britain’s chief diplomat a series of geographical mistakes exposed her to ridicule. She confused the Baltic and Black seas. She insisted Britain would never recognise parts of Russia that have always been Russian territory. And she was mocked for calling the Irish premier ‘Tea Sock’, rather than Taoiseach.

She has visited the north of Ireland on four occasions, most recently for a Tory leadership ‘hustings’ event. In meetings with the Dublin government, she provocatively refers to the north of Ireland as “part of my country”.

In January this year, she faced criticism for meeting only a senior member of the Orange Order and loyalists, while her engagement with nationalists has been minimal.

Commentator Brian Feeney described the future Tory leader’s actions on that occasion as a “perfect illustration of the partisan British behaviour”.

“Truss is crass, confrontational and abrasive with little sign she understands the effect her behaviour has on those on the receiving end. She is fully capable of launching battles on all sides including the EU,” he said.

“She will make [Boris] Johnson seem a political genius, [Theresa] May a mistress of empathy, David Cameron a beacon of sincerity,” said Irish Times commentator Fintan O’Toole has warned, referring to Ms Truss’s Conservative predecessors.

BORIS’S APPRENTICE?

Her first appointments suggest Truss, like her predecessor, has little understanding of public opinion. But it is not impossible that she may yet wish to distinguish herself from the legacy of the serially disgraced Boris Johnson.

Johnson delivered a defiant parting address at the podium in Downing Street, lauding his own ‘achievements’ including ‘getting Brexit done’ and describing himself as a ‘booster rocket’ who had thrust Truss into space.

Former Downing Street director of communications Alistair Campbell, hit out at Johnson, saying he had arrived as a “liar and fantasist” and was “leaving it as a liar and a fantasist” too.

He said: “The disconnect between the country that he was describing and the country that he has actually helped to preside over was enormous.”

Mr Campbell, who worked under Labour PM Tony Blair, went on to say Mr Johnson’s “big claim” about getting Brexit done was proving to be “something of a catastrophe” in Ireland.

“Boris Johnson has always been about boosterism. He’s always been about the fancy line,” he continued.

“He’s always been about getting people to talk about his superficial knowledge of Greek mythology and all the rest of it. The country is in a worse state than it was when he took over.”

Mr Campbell said what the country had seen from Mr Johnson was a “systematic debasing of our standards in public life” and “the debasing of the office”, adding: “Not a hint of humility or contrition as he left.”

DOUBLE-BARRELED

Meanwhile, thee new British Direct Ruler for the Six Counties is Chris Heaton-Harris, a fanatical right-wing Tory from the English midlands.

Heaton-Harris is a self-described ‘fierce Eurosceptic’ who was appointed to the role by Liz Truss only after a reported five other MPs turned it down.

Heaton-Harris came to public attention after launching a McCarthyite campaign to identify university academics and courses he believed were secretly supportive of Britain’s place in the European Union.

The plan to draw up a list of “European supporters” (his words) was condemned by opposition parties as “dystopian” and a “witch-hunt”.

Known to politicos as ‘CHH’, he is one of the new Tory cabinet to form a ‘continuity Johnson’ administration uner Liz Truss. He becomes the third British Direct Ruler appointed to the north of Ireland within the past two months.

The MP for Daventry, near Coventry, has no known connection to Ireland. Earlier this year, he held meetings with unionists in Belfast alongside then Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.

He replaces the outgoing Shaliesh Vara who served in the role after Brandon Lewis resigned in July. Vara was in the job for only two months.

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