Liz Truss: UK’s new Brexit negotiator said leaving EU would spell economic disaster

Leaving EU would leave Britain worse off, foreign secretary said in 2016 as she campaigned for Remain

Matt Mathers
Monday 20 December 2021 17:28
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Liz Truss sets out why Brexit would be bad for Britain in 2016

The minister put in charge of Brexit talks following the resignation of Lord David Frost is a former Remain supporter who issued a number of dire warnings against Britain leaving the EU during the 2016 referendum campaign.

Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, is now tasked with dealing with Brussels after Lord Frost, the de-facto Brexit chief, quit his role citing concerns about the Tory party’s direction of travel under prime minister Boris Johnson.

His exit came just days after a major climbdown by the UK on the role of the European Court of Justice in Northern Ireland, following ongoing disputes with the bloc over the protocol.

During the Brexit referendum campaign, Ms Truss said she was backing remain “as I believe it is in Britain’s economic interest and means we can focus on vital economic and social reform at home”.

In a May 2016 speech to the Food and Drink Federation, she warned delegates that voting to leave the EU would have a negative interest on the hospitality industry – as well as the wider economy – and ultimately make Britons poorer.

“I do think it’s in all of our interests to communicate the real impact on the ground; the real impact this would have on jobs, livelihoods because what we now is less trade would mean fewer investments, it would mean fewer jobs and that would feed through to people’s incomes,” she told the assembled audience.

“And that just doesn’t affect me and you in this room, that affects everyone in the overall economy. So even if you’re in a company that doesn’t export, the company that does export will be buying less of your services and I think that’s a message we really need to get across in the closing weeks of this campaign.”

She added: “But I have great faith in the British people; I think the British people are sensible people [and] they understand fundamentally that, economically, Britain will be better off staying in a reformed EU.”

The following month Ms Truss tweeted that “Leave cannot name one country we would get a better trade deal with if we left the EU,” as both sides put forward their economic arguments ahead of the 23 June vote.

After getting appointed as chief secretary to the Treasury by Mr Cameron’s successor Theresa May, Ms Truss then changed her stance on Brexit and in October 2017 said that she had “also seen the opportunities” of the process as she outlined her support for it.

“I believed there would be massive economic problems but those haven’t come to pass and I’ve also seen the opportunities,” she said. Further explaining why she had “changed her mind” on Brexit, Ms Truss added: “The other thing is it was a big moment on 23 June when British people voted to leave and it was an expression about what kind of country we wanted to be and I think that has changed the debate in this country as well.”

Ms Truss, seen as one of the favourites to replace the prime minister should Tory MPs oust him from No 10 amid a slew of recent scandals, previously served as international trade secretary and is perceived as having made a success of the role.

Prior to that Ms Truss, who is according to the Conservative Home website the most popular cabinet secretary among Tory Party supporters, served as the secretary of state for the environment, food and rural affairs when she campaigned for Remain.

The foreign secretary has often hit out at identity politics in the UK and launched what has been described as a “war on woke”.

While seen one of the leading candidates to replace him, Ms Truss is viewed as loyal to the prime minister, who promoted her to the Foreign Office role in his September 2021 cabinet reshuffle, which was aimed at resetting the government’s agenda following months of crisis management during the Covid pandemic. The switch made Ms Truss, already the youngest woman ever to be appointed to the cabinet, the youngest Conservative foreign secretary.

As part of her additional Brexit duties, Ms Truss will now be tasked with finding solutions to Brexit’s Northern Ireland protocol, which has caused significant discontent within the unionist community and some disruption to trade. In a tweet on Monday she said was was “pleased” to have taken on her new responsibilities.

Many of Sunday's newspapers were packed with briefings about why her former government colleague Lord Frost quit, Covid plan B measures and tax rises were put forward as some of the reasons why the Brexit hardball negotiator felt he could no longer support the government.

“We have [he and the PM] never disagreed in any way about Brexit policy,” he said on Monday morning in his first public comments since quitting. “Right up to the last day we’ve been absolutely aligned on that, and Liz Truss and Chris Heaton-Harris, I'm sure are going to do a great job.”

He added: "If you’re a minister you have to support collective responsibility, you have to support decisions of the government, and I couldn’t, so that's why I had to leave.”

Last week he pulled back from threats to suspend Article 16 of the protocol as the UK appeared to soften its position on the issue. London also abandoned its bid to strip EU judges of the power to oversee the protocol.

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