Liz Truss: the free market ideologue now ‘negotiating’ Brexit

Artwork by Chris James @chrisjameswriterartist

This 2019 article is from Tom Scott and Molly Scott Cato’s Cabinet of Horrors blog. It remains extremely pertinent, especially so given Truss’s move to ‘negotiate’ Brexit following Frost’s resignation. That’s the same Brexit Johnson and Frost claim to have got done…

It would be easy to dismiss Liz Truss as an intellectual lightweight, and Truss herself has supplied plenty of material that might tend to back such an assessment. There’s her comically vacuous speech on British food at the Conservative Party conference, for instance, in which she called for the UK to sell more pork to Beijing and appeared to believe that Yorkshire Tea is grown in Yorkshire. Or the time when she criticised nursery schools in which toddlers were ‘running around with no sense of purpose’.

But Truss is both more intelligent and much more dangerous than she seems. After winning a place from a Leeds comprehensive to study Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford, she moved steadily away from the left-wing background in which she had been raised, first becoming an active Liberal Democrat and then, after a stint working as a management accountant for Shell and Cable & Wireless, gravitating to the Conservative Party.

Here, she attached herself to the most ‘free-market’ wing of the party, becoming a founder of the Free Enterprise Group. In 2010, shortly after being elected as an MP, she was – with Priti Patel,  Dominic Raab and Kwasi Kwarteng – one of the authors of Britannia Unchained,  a now-notorious book that called for the scrapping of workers’ rights and alleged that ‘the British are among the worst idlers in the world’.

Under Cameron, May and now Johnson, Truss has moved swiftly up the ministerial ladder, taking in the departments of Education, Environment Food & Rural Affairs, Justice and the Treasury before being appointed to the Cabinet of Horrors as Secretary of State for International Trade, where she succeeds the widely derided Liam Fox.

Along the way, she has attracted considerable criticism. As a Junior Minister for the Environment, she approved the temporary lifting of an EU ban on the use of two neonicotinoid pesticides, despite being warned of the harm that these were causing to bees. The Guardian’s George Monbiot commented that Truss was:

‘indissolubly wedded to a set of theories about how the world should be, that are impervious to argument, facts or experience […] She seems determined to dismantle the protections that secure our quality of life: the rules and agencies defending the places and wildlife we love.’

Nor did she show much concern to protect the integrity of the British legal system during her time as Secretary of State for Justice. After judges came under attack from politicians and the right-wing press for ruling against the government in the Article 50 Brexit case, with the Daily Mail accusing them of being ‘enemies of the people‘ for having exercised their impartial judgement, Truss singularly failed to speak out strongly in their defence. Former Attorney General Dominic Grieve condemned this failure, which he saw as a betrayal of Conservative ‘traditions of respect for the rule of law and parliamentary democracy’. 

Shortly after Truss took up her appointment at as International Trade Minister, Greenpeace revealed that she had recently met with a number of rabidly right-wing lobby groups in the US, Including the Heritage Foundation and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. These meetings appear to have been part of ‘shadow trade talks’ aimed at opening up the UK to the importation of US  goods currently banned in Britain for environmental or health reasons.

Belief in the ideology of the unfettered ‘free market’ combined with a lack of concern for the rule of law; it is no wonder that Johnson saw Truss as eminently suited to a role in his Cabinet of Horrors.