You’re reading Reaction. To get Iain Martin’s weekly newsletter, columnists including Tim Marshall, Maggie Pagano and Adam Boulton, full access to the site and invitations to member-exclusive events, become a member HERE.
Liz Truss is busy enough as Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, as well as being Minister for Women and Equalities. Now she’s been tasked by the Prime Minister with leading negotiations with the European Union over the disputed Northern Ireland Protocol following the unexpected resignation of Lord Frost.
Over the weekend, The Hound trailed the idea that Truss could take on Frost’s duties. It fixes a quirk of British policy-making that dates back to 2016, when the Brexit department (now effectively abolished) was created to handle the process. Post-departure, the EU is now foreign policy so why not make this the responsibility of the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office?
There has been concern among Brexiteers that giving the FCDO such a direct role would be a mistake because, in Brexiteer parlance, the department is Continuity Remain HQ. Just listen to the most voluble and pro-EU former ambassadors (other than Lord Frost) when they speak on the subject.
Truss, who voted Remain and then switched, will be trusted by Brexiteers now that Frost is gone. She’s popular with Tory activists, topping the ConHome poll.
From the Prime Minister’s perspective, it makes sense giving a leadership rival the tricky job of sorting out his unfortunate Northern Ireland Protocol that Boris Johnson agreed to accidentally on purpose to get Brexit over the line. Truss has to deliver, or she’ll be criticised by hardline Brexiteers who want to trigger Article 16 and launch a trade war with the EU. But Number 10 has been softening its position, a move that contributed to Frost’s departure. Truss will have to find a way through.
Truss will not be alone in her difficult mission. Chris Heaton-Harris MP, a Brexiteer and former MEP with good networks in Brussels, will be joining Truss as Minister for Europe. The move somewhat appeases Brexit-supporting Tory backbenchers who were miffed by Frost’s departure from the Cabinet.
Truss may ultimately need to reach a compromise with the EU, particularly over jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice – an issue which has dogged talks for months.
If she succeeds in solving the border problem, it will only bolster her leadership credentials. If she fails? Well, there is speculation that she might at some point do what Johnson did to Theresa May after that Chequers meeting and resign (although David Davis beat Boris to it) and position herself for the top job. All to play for here.