nearlier two months after Boris Johnson reluctantly announced his resignation on the steps of 10 Downing Street, Britain finally elected a new leader: Liz Truss.
“I am honored to be elected leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party. I would like to thank the 1922 Committee, the party chairman of the Conservative Party, for organizing one of the longest job interviews in history,” Truss joked, after the results were announced on Monday. “I would also like to thank my family, my friends, my political colleagues and all those who have helped with this campaign. I am incredibly grateful for all your support.”
Truss’ victory over her leadership rival, former chancellor Rishi Sunak, was widely seen as a foregone conclusion in Westminster. She quickly became a favorite fugitive among card-carrying Conservative Party members (second only to her former boss). Despite the efforts of the UK’s recent third female leader to market herself as the ideological reincarnation of the first Margaret Thatcher, Truss is perhaps best seen as the candidate to succeed Johnson. And perhaps just as well: After being formally appointed prime minister by the Queen on September 6, Truss’ first order of business will be to deal with the many crises her predecessor left behind.
Here’s what you need to know about her.
Who is Liz Truss?
Known as a political chameleon, Truss has worn several ideological hats throughout her life. Born in Oxford to a left-wing family, Truss’ childhood saw him often join his mother in demonstrations in favor of nuclear disarmament and against Thatcher’s Conservative government, which launched sweeping economic reforms centered around free markets, privatization and the small state. As a student at Oxford University, she led the centrist Liberal Democrat student society and advocated for the abolition of the monarchy. She later switched her allegiance to the Conservative Party, a transition she attributed to maturity. (“We’ve all had teenage mishaps,” Truss said Conservative voters in the campaign. “Some people did sex, drugs and rock and roll. I had the Liberal Democrats.”)
Revelations that Truss had an affair in the early 2000s with a Conservative MP 10 years her senior threaten to derail her parliamentary ambitions. But she was elected as an MP in 2010 and rose through the Tory ranks. In 2014, Truss became the country the youngest female cabinet minister as environment secretary in David Cameron’s government and eventually went on to serve in the Theresa May and Johnson cabinets.
During the 2016 Brexit referendum, just six years into her tenure as a Conservative MP, Truss became a vocal supporter of the UK remaining in the EU, calling Brexit “triple tragedy”, advocated by those who “live in cloud cuckoo land”.
Six years later, Truss is a staunch Brexiteer and the standard-bearer of the country’s Eurosceptic Thatcherite right, a position that has made her a natural favorite of the Conservative Party faithful. She describes herself as “merciless,” which could help explain her rapid rise through the conservative ranks. She is also seen as fiercely loyal, having been one of the few ministers who did not resign during the fall of Johnson’s scandalous premiership. To her critics, however, she is a political opportunist – someone who can quickly and completely take whatever position suits her at the moment.
How does she compare to Boris Johnson?
From everything Truss has said on the campaign trail, it is clear that she is “generally a continuation of Johnson,” says Gavin Barwell, a former Conservative minister and chief of staff to former prime minister Theresa May. On matters of foreign policy, Truss is in step with his predecessor, especially when it comes to support for Ukraine. On economic policy, however, Truss favors tax cuts and offers perhaps a starkly different view in some areas – particularly on social spending, where Johnson has gone against his party’s views on limited government.
Like Johnson, Truss is known for having a slightly goofy public persona—one that is best exemplified by her viral speech in the UK pork markets. What remains to be seen, however, is whether she will be able to match Johnson’s popularity, particularly among mainstream Tories. “Very few people could match the charismatic appeal of Boris Johnson,” says Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London and head of research project focusing on membership of the UK’s main political parties. “Liz Truss sure can’t.”
Perhaps the important commonality will be whether Truss chooses to continue Johnson’s legacy of undermining British political norms and conventions. Like Johnson, Truss indicated he may not appoint a new ethics adviser, a role responsible for advising the prime minister on ethics in public life. The last two advisers left over the Johnson government’s failure to adhere to the ministerial code of conduct. But as Truss sees it, her government won’t need such surveillance. “I am a person who has always acted with integrity,” she said during the campaign, “and that’s what I would do as Prime Minister.”
What do other world leaders think of her?
As Minister of Foreign Affairs, Truss had many meetings with world leaders. But it faces major challenges, particularly in relation to its relations with the UK’s European allies. Relations between the UK and the EU soured earlier this year after Truss introduced legislation that threatened to unilaterally undermine delicate post-Brexit trade deals on the island of Ireland – which is divided by Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK, and the Republic of Ireland, which is a member of the EU. As a candidate, Truss staked to pass legislation that would unilaterally remove checks on goods traveling between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, despite concerns that this could breach international law.
Truss drew further criticism during his campaign, saying that “the jury is out” on whether French President Emmanuel Macron is friend or foe of the United Kingdom (Macron, in an apparent indignant responsereaffirmed that the United Kingdom is a friendly nation, “independently and sometimes despite its leaders.”)
“It reflected her true sense of dealing with Europeans,” said Peter Ricketts, a former British diplomat who was the UK’s ambassador to France. “I think we’re heading for even more turbulent waters with the Europeans, even than under Johnson.”
Another important link to watch will be with the White House. There is a route it is reported expressed less enthusiasm for the so-called “special relationship” between the US and the UK than previous prime ministers. While she will undoubtedly continue close cooperation between London and Washington, particularly on shared policy towards Russia and China, there will inevitably be friction with the Biden administration over its plans to press ahead with rewriting the Northern Ireland Protocol.
What is he up against?
At this stage it would be easier to list what she is not vs. Truss’ plot is filled with a host of crises left over from the Johnson era, the most frightening of which is the country’s cost-of-living crisis. Britons face a winter in which their household energy bills could rise by an eye-watering 80%; In July, inflation hit a 40-year high of 10.1%. Truss pledged to make passing an emergency budget one of her first tasks, though she was tight-lipped about exactly what her support package would include.
In addition to the UK’s economic challenges, Truss will also have to contend with looming political crises, and not just in Northern Ireland. In Scotland, the Scottish Nationalist Party will be expecting next month Hearing in the UK High Court on whether the devolved Scottish Government can hold independence referendum without the consent of Westminster – the outcome of which could renew focus on the fate of the British Union and Truss’s ability to preserve it. Support for Scottish independence has grown in the years since Brexit – Scotland voted strongly to remain – reaching higher than 55% last year. As for SNP MP Stuart Macdonald, a Truss government “will still be repulsive to most people in Scotland”, just as Johnson’s was.
Besides these crises, Truss also has to deal with the small matter of uniting his party after a tough leadership campaign. While that may not be much of a challenge when it comes to making peace with her formal leadership rivals, several of whom have been tipped for good positions in her cabinet, it could prove more difficult if her predecessor chooses to play an extremely large role in affairs. Like other former prime ministers, Johnson will resume his role in parliament as a regular MP. But Johnson’s biggest challenge to Truss may not come from the backbenches. “I suspect he will go back to writing a regular newspaper column, and that will always be news, given the kind of person he is,” says Barwell. “And that will be a real challenge for the prime minister.”
Will the Truss hold up?
The next UK general election is not due until late 2024 or January 2025. Truss could technically call a snap election before then, although it would be highly unusual given the Conservative Party’s large majority in parliament and the opposition Labor Party a significant lead in the polls. But that doesn’t mean Truss is guaranteed to last until the next election – the Tories have a habit of ousting leaders. “She could turn out to be the last in this line of Conservative prime ministers,” says Ricketts. “It’s the fourth in six years. That’s a pretty quick turnaround for British politics.
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