‘Between a rock and a hard place’ Fears over Truss’s new Brexit role ahead of crunch talks

Liz Truss: Backbenchers see as ‘safe pair of hands’ says expert

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Boris Johnson was rocked by the shock resignation of Lord Frost at the weekend, who had served as the Prime Minister’s right-hand man on Brexit and was leading negotiations with the EU over the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol. The UK’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has now taken on the brief of overseeing the UK’s post-Brexit relationship with the bloc across all aspects. She will speak with European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic later on Tuesday as they continue to seek solutions over difficulties involving trade between Britain and Ireland.

Ms Truss tweeted on Monday: “I want a comprehensive solution that delivers for the people of Northern Ireland and everyone across our great country.”

But with the Prime Minister facing increasing fury from his own Conservative Party backbenchers, she will be closely watched – particularly by Euroskeptics – according to Politico Europe reporter Cristina Gallardo.

She warned a “perceived wrong move” by Ms Truss over how to proceed with UK-EU talks could blow a huge hole in her chances of success in a future Conservative Party leadership contest.

In a column article for Politico, Ms Gallardo wrote: “A former Remainer, Truss burnished her Brexit credentials by promoting free trade and the ‘Global Britain’ message as international trade secretary until earlier this year.

“She is regarded as a pragmatic minister who has been willing to make concessions to get trade deals over the line, boosting her popularity among Tory MPs and members alike.

“With the Brexit brief, however, she might find herself between a rock and a hard place: the wish of a large number of Conservative MPs for a tough approach to the Northern Ireland protocol dispute on the one hand and, on the other, the increasing appetite from voters for the country to move on.

“A final decision on whether to cut a deal with the EU will rest with Johnson.

“But a perceived false move by Truss could damage her chances of success in a future Conservative leadership contest, for which she’s considered a strong contender.”

Will Tanner, director of the Onward think tank and a former Downing Street adviser, said the decision from Mr Johnson to give Ms Truss the key Brexit role is “an endorsement of her capabilities” and an opportunity for her to show she’s a serious negotiator.

He said: “She needs to deliver the best deal she possibly can for the United Kingdom, and that would be true whether she was a leadership contender or not.

“That is a difficult task given some of the demands of the most Euroskeptic wing of the party, but ultimately she will want to come to a resolution because not doing so would have very significant economic consequences for the UK — especially in the short-term as we emerge from the pandemic.”

On Sunday evening, Downing Street announced Ms Truss would be taking over responsibility of the the UK’s future relationship with the EU following the resignation of Lord Frost.

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The former Brexit minister stepped down with “immediate effect” on Saturday night, having previously agreed with the Prime Minister he would leave his job in January.

He cited “the current direction of travel” of the Government, as well as fears over “coercive” Covid measures and the wish for the UK to become a “lightly regulated, low-tax” economy.

The UK and EU have been at loggerheads over the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol following the departure from the bloc at the start of this year.

Lord Frost had claimed large parts of the mechanism needed to be overhauled as it simply wasn’t working – an argument that has been repeatedly shut down by the EU.

Several rounds of talks between the former UK Brexit minister and European counterpart Mr Sefcovic have ended in stalemate.

The UK has suggested on several occasions it could invoke Article 16 of the Protocol, which would see large parts if not all of the agreement ripped up.

But Brussels has responded strongly by warning there would be fierce retaliation from its side if the UK pressed ahead with this move.

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