As much anticipated, Liz Truss was elected the new leader of the Conservative Party earlier this week securing 57% of the vote from party members. Taking over the reigns from her predecessor, Boris Johnson, many now are wondering what her premiership will mean for EU-UK relations over the coming months.
Upon her appointment as the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Truss began to receive various messages of congratulations from EU officials in Brussels. While all messages were congratulatory in tone, many officials emphasised the importance of EU-UK cooperation going forward, and how relations should be based on common agreements and trust. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted her congratulations stressing the common challenges the EU and UK face as “partners” and noted how she looks forward to a “constructive relationship, in full respect of our agreements”. Similarly, Maroš Šefčovič, the Commissioner responsible for EU-UK relations and Co-Chair of the EU-UK Joint Committee and Partnership Council, stressed the strategic importance of a “positive” relationship, and said he is ready to “work intensively and constructively […] in full respect of our agreements.” Commission President von der Leyen is expected to speak with Truss over the phone in the coming days.
As Foreign Secretary under Boris Johnson’s government, Truss was known for her aggressive stance towards the EU and the Northern Ireland Protocol, in particular. The Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which was spearheaded by Truss and is currently making its way through Westminster, proposes scrapping various parts of the deal previously agreed upon by Brussels and London. Repeatedly warning that the bill breaks international law, the EU retaliated in June by restarting legal action against the UK, which had been put on ice in March, and by launching two additional legal proceedings. The UK has until 15 September to respond to the legal action taken by the EU.
Speaking before the House of Commons on Wednesday, Truss stated how she is in favour of a “negotiated solution” to the Protocol dispute with Brussels, but warned that the agreed solution must “deliver all of the things [. . .] set out in the Northern Ireland Protocol bill.” This may be interpreted in Brussels as an indication that Truss plans to push ahead with the bill. And if this were to occur, it would undoubtedly further increase EU-UK tensions.
Meanwhile, the appointment of Chris Heaton-Harris as the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is an added indication of the tough stance Truss might take in dealings with the EU. Heaton-Harris, who is the former chair of the European Research Group (ERG) and who previously served as a Member of the European Parliament, is a hardline Brexiteer.
Discussions and actions over the Northern Ireland Protocol in the coming weeks are likely to give a better picture of how EU-UK relations might progress in the coming months with Truss at the helm of the new Government. In other areas, however, the EU continues to stress the importance of cooperation and dialogue with the UK. European Council President Charles Michel, for instance, has said Truss will be invited to join EU leaders at a summit in Prague on 6 October to establish the European Political Community, a new body which will focus on advancing security across the continent.