‘I’m a low-tax conservative – we have to weather the economic storm’

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“If I could come back in 2016 I would vote to leave,” she told the Telegraph, reflecting on the week spent in her plush Foreign Office workspace. “What I have seen both in my work in trade and in my role as foreign minister is the new freedom and the impetus that having an independent trade policy and a foreign policy independent allowed us to do. And also, the omens of doom did not materialize.

But weren’t you yourself one of the prophets of doom, Minister of Foreign Affairs? “When the evidence changes, I change my mind,” she replies. “I think it’s the right thing to do.”

Deepening Euroscepticism isn’t the only transformation Truss, 46, has undergone over the past eight years – his political fortunes have been on a steady upward trajectory. At the time of the referendum, she was David Cameron’s environment secretary. It was her first Cabinet post after entering Parliament in 2010 as MP for South West Norfolk and rising through the cabinet ranks.

The role of Justice Secretary followed when Theresa May took over, followed by International Trade Secretary under Boris Johnson – making her a Cabinet survivor.

Then, last September, came the biggest task yet – promotion to one of the top state offices, becoming the first conservative woman to head the Foreign Office.

Since then, with Truss near the top of Conservative member approval ratings for Cabinet ministers, politicians are increasingly asking: are his eyes on the top job?

Even the briefest scan around his desk is a reminder of Truss’ longevity at the top of government – his eighth birthday in Cabinet is in July. There are mugs related to her days of justice (she was the first female Lord Chancellor in British history); foreign travel trinkets; a photo of the Cabinet standing two meters apart at the height of Covid.

Churchill’s bust and photograph of the Queen predate her arrival, but the framed photograph of herself hugging one of the vast dogs in Dulux advertisements is a rare hint of her life on the outside (she admits that ‘she wants to get a dachshund, but her husband is saying no, noting – perhaps not unreasonably, given his travels abroad – that he would be responsible for caring for it).

Certainly, as frontline politicians, Truss is more cautious and calculated in her responses than some. The questions are followed by pauses of a few seconds. The answers are methodical. Any attempt to deflect a comment from the party line is acknowledged with a smile and rarely taken up. She has mastered the art of returning to an established position.

So that’s the first thing she wants to talk about is the meat of this week’s announcement, and why it’s so important. Its main message, aimed at a European audience, is that no one should doubt the UK’s determination to push forward a unilateral solution. “What I want to be clear on is that we are determined to do this. And we will not let it get us down, because this situation has been drifting for several months,” she said.

The UK’s argument is now familiar and it’s all about protocol, the deal struck under Johnson’s presidency in 2019 that helped him get Brexit done.


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