Britain has a new prime minister, but that doesn’t mean quieter times for Germany and the EU. Liz Truss is an ardent Brexit representative who already went on a confrontational course with the EU in the party’s internal election campaign. That blooms to us in detail.
Britain has a new Prime Minister. Only 47-year-old Liz Truss prevailed in the runoff against former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak. Only members of the Conservative Party voted. Typically, the party leader of the ruling party in Britain also holds the office of Prime Minister. This post was vacant after Boris Johnson resigned in June.
Truss, who had caught up a significant deficit over Sunak and third-placed candidate Penny Mordaunt in several rounds of the election, relied primarily on pro-Brexit sentiment during the election campaign. The chances of leaving must finally be implemented, and all the hurdles that the EU has imposed on the island must be removed by the end of 2023. This shows that Brussels will not be comfortable with the new prime minister. Several concrete points of contention are already foreseeable.
The status of Northern Ireland was considered one of the most difficult sticking points in the Brexit negotiations. Background: The border between Ireland and Northern Ireland has been an open border since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. This was not a problem within the EU, but with Brexit it has become an external EU border. Goods and people crossing them would therefore have to be checked.
As this would cause unrest in Northern Ireland, the UK and the EU agreed on a protocol that came into force in 2021. Accordingly, Northern Ireland remains part of the EU Customs Union, which is why border controls must now take place between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. This is a thorn in the side of pro-British and conservative parties on the islands in particular.
Truss’ predecessor Johnson introduced a controversial law in 2020 that would allow Great Britain to unilaterally circumvent the protocol. Truss supports this, even calling the law she was involved in a personal success. The EU has sued the UK for this. Truss only has until September 15 to settle the dispute, but she doesn’t seem interested in doing so. Then the EU Commission would file a complaint with the EU Court of Justice.
If no agreement is reached, the EU would probably react with punitive tariffs and other trade restrictions against Great Britain. There would be a trade war. That would also affect the German economy. With a turnover of 97.5 billion euros last year, Great Britain was Germany’s tenth most important trading partner.
The fact that Great Britain is no longer part of the EU does not mean that all EU regulations no longer apply there. This is particularly evident in the financial sector, where London has adopted regulations on the capitalization of banks. This year, for example, the ECB and the Bank of England agreed to postpone stricter rules until 2025 because of the energy crisis.
Truss now wants to abolish this completely. It is planning its own laws, which should be much more lax than EU law. According to their plan, this would free up 95 billion euros that British banks could use to support British companies and citizens. The Bank of England takes a critical view of this, as these buffers are intended for times of crisis. Such a move makes working with UK banks less safe for foreign clients. You could then turn to financial institutions that are more heavily regulated and therefore more crisis-proof. So Truss’ plan here would be good for Germany and the EU. Financial centers such as Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Paris could benefit from this.
There is currently also a dispute over research funding. Despite Brexit, Great Britain should still be able to take part in Horizon Europe, the most valuable research program in the world. The EU refuses, however, with reference to the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol. Truss argues that their researchers should still be granted access. She supports an official government complaint from last month. By the time agreement is reached, Horizon Europe could be too far advanced for participation to make sense. The complaint is therefore more symbolic and earned Truss some pithy headlines in her favour.
“Defense and security policy would have been a good starting point to repair the UK-EU relationship,” Isabella Antinozzi told Euronews. The Italian works as an analyst at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), a think tank in London. Especially during the Ukraine war, both sides would have easily found cooperation.
But Truss showed little interest in it even as a candidate. To date, Great Britain has hardly participated in EU defense plans. Truss hasn’t even mentioned the subject so far. “She treats the diplomatic world as if it were a congress of her conservative party, always nice and bold,” tweeted Charles Grant, director of the EU-critical Center for European Reform (CER) from London.
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Experts therefore get the impression that Truss wants to maintain a state of “eternal Brexit”. To do this, a constant, artificial conflict with the EU must be maintained. After all, the focus on the supposedly evil EU also distracts from domestic political problems. Things are no different in Great Britain than in Germany: Energy prices are extremely high, as is inflation.
So far, Liz Truss had to convince her party colleagues in the internal party election campaign. To do this, she skilfully used striking statements and presented herself in the best possible light, as well as taking over her party’s positions and occupying their radical ends. That was successful.
As Prime Minister, she is less committed to her party friends, and she is now confronted with the real world, where she has to make compromises – not only with the EU, but also with many other people and groups outside her party. How much this will change their political positions is difficult to say. But nothing is impossible. Up until 2016, for example, Truss was in favor of Britain remaining in the EU. Her opinion on Brexit only changed 180 degrees in the years that followed.
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