Politics has been on hold since the Queen’s death, overshadowing Liz Truss’s first days in office, including her massive spending to bring down energy bills. The new prime minister has been forced to tear up the blueprint for her early weeks in No 10 and push back a planned “policy blitz” and the final touches to her reshuffle. After the Queen’s funeral, normal business will resume, although Truss faces many challenges.
Truss will hold a series of informal meetings at Downing Street with a small number of world leaders in the UK to attend the funeral. No 10 has played down the significance of the talks, saying that much of the discussion will involve reflecting on the Queen. Aides’ refusal to brief reporters on the content of the talks because of the national mourning period has raised some eyebrows. Truss will meet the US president, Joe Biden, for the first time since she took over, with tensions already strained by her threats to rip up the post-Brexit trading arrangements in Northern Ireland and Biden’s reluctance to strike a free trade deal with Britain as a result. She will also meet the Irish taoiseach, Micheál Martin, over the ongoing Northern Ireland protocol row. Truss has an audience with the King at the palace and attends a heads of state reception in the evening.
The eyes of the world will be on the Queen’s funeral at Westminster Abbey where Truss will be among the mourners and will read a lesson during the service. She will later travel to Windsor along with other leaders of Commonwealth countries, including Canada’s Justin Trudeau, Australia’s Anthony Albanese and New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, for the committal service. Her leadership since the Queen’s death will set the tone for her premiership. If she is deemed to have got it right, rising to the occasion and judging the mood of the country correctly, it will bolster her in the hard months ahead. If she fails, her task over the winter as the economic emergency bites will become harder still.
After flying overnight from the UK, Truss will arrive in New York for the United Nations general assembly, her first foreign trip as prime minister. First impressions will count. She will hold a series of tough bilateral meetings with other leaders, expected to include Emmanuel Macron. After the Queen’s death, the French president tweeted about the “unbreakable” ties between France and the UK, promising to strengthen their relationship further. Even so, Truss may have to explain comments made during the Tory party leadership race in which she said the “jury’s out” over whether he was “friend or foe”.
Truss will set out her vision for “global Britain” as she addresses the UN. Although she sometimes struggles with delivery, British officials privately believe it can’t be worse than Boris Johnson’s ramblings last year about Kermit the Frog, when he told bemused diplomats that the Muppet character was wrong to sing It’s Not Easy Being Green. At home, the government is expected to confirm details of its energy bailout for struggling businesses, amid fears the scheme will struggle to launch before November. It’s a make-or-break moment for the government, with thousands of firms on the brink.
After landing back on British soil, Truss will head back to Downing Street to put the finishing touches to the mini-budget, just as the Bank of England sets interest rates, with economists predicting they could rise to 2.25% – the highest level since 2008. The health secretary, Thérèse Coffey, meanwhile, is expected to set out her four-step action plan to support the NHS this winter, focusing on ambulance delays, backlogs, the social care crisis, and doctor and dentist appointments. NHS leaders say the health service is already on its knees. So if Truss fails to “deliver, deliver, deliver,” she may lose whatever public goodwill she has left.
In the mini-budget, the government is expected to confirm plans to reverse the recent rise in national insurance, even though it benefits higher earners the most, and to ditch a planned rise in corporation tax. Truss’s team have spoken to business groups about changes to business rates and cuts to VAT to help with the energy crisis. Senior MPs believe the chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, could make a “rabbit out of the hat” announcement on the cost of living crisis, with speculation that this could be around cutting income tax. Truss is determined to announce some good news before the party conferences begin, but she could very quickly run into hard economic reality.