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Rise of “iron weathercock” – La Truss as others see her

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es. Vienna, September 6, 2022

The Week, a successful compendium of press and other Anglophone media reports, has had a decent success since it was founded in London in 1995. Its account of global reactions to the election of Liz Truss as UK prime minister, typically brief, is  below in its Global Lens rubric:

How the world views Liz Truss – Feted in Ukraine but ridiculed in Europe – international reaction has been decidedly mixed.

While her victory in the Tory leadership election has been greeted with joy in Ukraine and eastern Europe, where the UK’s aggressive stance against Russia has won widespread plaudits, the response from Brussels and Washington has been more muted.

From being on the “bright side of European politics” to a gaffe-prone “Iron Weathercock”, it is fair to say that international reaction to her appointment has been decidedly mixed.

Russia and Ukraine

Liz Truss’s arrival in Downing Street has been greeted with “scorn and scarcely veiled condescension from the Kremlin, but an outpouring of praise in Ukraine”, reported The Guardian.

Given her tough approach to Russia during her time as foreign secretary and her vow to maintain Boris Johnson’s strong support for Kyiv now she is prime minister, neither reaction is a surprise.
 
Moscow, 10/02/22. Kremlin comments: “Facts bounce off her”

The Kremlin openly mocked her during her visit to Moscow in February, with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov comparing meeting her to “a conversation between someone deaf and someone who is mute”.

True to form, one host on Russian state TV reacted to her victory in the Tory leadership election by declaring: “Stupidity has triumphed: Liz Truss has become the new prime minister… If Boris Johnson achieved Brexit, she wants to achieve something entirely different – the end of the world.”

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Yet in Ukraine, her move into No. 10 has been greeted with exuberant enthusiasm. The country’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said British-Ukrainian ties were already at “an unprecedentedly high level”, adding: “We in Ukraine know her well – she has always been on the bright side of European politics.”

Europe

Reaction to Truss’s victory has also divided Europe. Her conversion from committed Remainer to Brexiteer zealot and her threat to tear up the Northern Ireland Protocol has meant that her appointment was greeted with caution in Brussels.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen offered her obligatory congratulations but added that she wanted a “constructive relationship” with Truss, “in full respect of our agreements”.

This last point was reiterated by European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic, who has been leading the Brussels side in talks on implementing the Brexit arrangements.

Truss alarmed diplomats at home and in Paris this summer when replying that “the jury was out” on whether French President Emmanuel Macron was a friend or foe of the UK.

Referencing her changing views on a range of issues from Brexit to the monarchy, French commentators have taken to calling her the “Iron Weathercock”. A parody of Margaret Thatcher’s famous nickname – the Iron Lady – the term was first coined in the French financial newspaper Les Echos earlier this year and has since caught on.

Politicians in eastern Europe, meanwhile, who openly applaud the UK for its tough stance towards the Kremlin, have been “unreservedly warm”, said Adler.

Estonia’s prime minister, Kaja Kallas, tweeted a photo of her alongside the former foreign secretary, saying: “I’m confident our partnership will only grow.”

Like Russia, China has made little secret of its disdain for Truss’s hawkish approach towards Beijing, and her victory is “likely leading to a ramping up of anti-China rhetoric that will solidify years of rising tensions”, said Nikkei Asia.

Since becoming foreign secretary last year, China’s state-owned media have called her “a radical populist” and described her China-related speeches as “crazy”, said The Guardian.

While Beijing has yet to issue a formal statement on her appointment as prime minister, a prominent Chinese journalist offered a similarly pessimistic view of the UK’s future under Truss.

“Truss will likely be one of Britain’s most mediocre prime ministers,” tweeted Hu Xijin, a commentator for the Chinese Communist Party-affiliated Global Times. “Truss has the will to be Britain’s ‘new iron lady’, but she may not have Thatcher’s fate,” he added.

US

The Guardian reported that the Biden administration is “well aware that Truss is no ideological bedfellow and that she has carefully cultivated connections with the Republicans, but on US foreign policy priorities, confronting and containing China and Russia, there is confidence in Washington that she will be a reliable ally”.

Ishaan Tharoor in The Washington Post wrote: “It seems Truss’s defining attribute may be a certain brand of political opportunism,” adding that she “will struggle to muster Johnson’s irrepressible – or delusional, critics would contend – optimism”.

Disgraced, but going away? -Boris Johnson

“Ultimately, Truss sees the United Kingdom as first among partners rather than one of the pack,” said the US-based Atlantic Council think tank, “committed to Britain as a leader in a host of areas, whether or not they are where the country is most effective.”

With a financial crisis in full swing and divisions in her own party to contend with, “Truss will struggle to be the mistress of her own destiny”, said Robert Shrimsley in the Financial Times.

“She is going to have to be one of the great premiers just to be a merely good one,” he concluded.

 

 

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