Liz Truss began her term as Britain’s Prime Minister by changing the face of the country’s government and appointing the most diverse cabinet in British history.
Ms. Truss announced her ministerial appointments late Tuesday, hours after taking over as Prime Minister from Boris Johnson. Many of Mr. Johnson’s senior ministers were cast aside and Ms. Truss handed several prominent roles to relative newcomers.
For the first time, no white men feature among the top three posts – chancellor of the exchequer, home secretary and foreign secretary – and the deputy prime minister is also a woman.
In brief remarks outside Downing Street earlier on Tuesday, Ms. Truss vowed to “tackle the issues that are holding Britain back.” She listed her priorities as cutting taxes, addressing the energy crisis and improving health care services.
“We will transform Britain into an aspiration nation with high-paying jobs, safe streets, and where everyone everywhere has the opportunities they deserve,” she said.
Kwasi Kwarteng, whose parents came to Britain from Ghana, has been named Britain’s first Black Chancellor of the Exchequer. Mr. Kwarteng, 47, is a close ally of Ms. Truss and he shares her free-market outlook. Born in London, he attended Eton College and the University of Cambridge where he earned a doctorate in economics. He has also studied at Harvard University and worked in finance at JP Morgan.
“I actually think that it’s not that much of a big deal,” Mr. Kwarteng said after his appointment was announced. “I think once you’ve made the point, I don’t think it’s something that comes up that much.”
Suella Braverman, whose parents came from Kenya and Mauritius, is Home Secretary and James Cleverly, whose mother is from Sierra Leone, has become Britain’s first non-white Foreign Secretary.
Thérèse Coffey has been appointed Deputy Prime Minister and Health Secretary, and Nadhim Zahawi, a refugee from Iraq, has been named Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, which effectively runs the cabinet office.
“Politics has set the pace. We now treat it as normal, this diversity,” said Sunder Katwala, director of non-partisan think tank British Future. “The pace of change is extraordinary.”
Ms. Truss, 47, officially became Prime Minister on Tuesday morning after an audience with the Queen at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. On Monday, she succeeded Mr. Johnson as leader of the Conservative Party after winning a runoff election among party members and defeating former chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak.
Ms. Truss comes into office with two years to go before the next election must be called and the Conservatives trailing the Labour Party in most public opinion polls. She also faces an inbox full of challenges.
The most pressing issue is energy and the soaring cost of natural gas. More than 80 per cent of British homes use gas for heating and the country has minimal storage capacity. About half the supply comes from aging fields in the North Sea and the remainder is bought on the open market.
The price of gas for home heating is regulated and it is adjusted several times a year to reflect global market conditions. The cap is set to rise on Oct. 1 to an average annual price for homeowners of £3,549 ($5,375). That’s up from £1,971, and analysts say the price could climb to £5,000 at the next adjustment in January.
There have been growing calls for Ms. Truss to freeze the cap at the current amount and provide financial support to households and businesses. On Tuesday, she promised to “take action this week to deal with energy bills and to secure our future energy supply.”
Media reports on Tuesday indicated that Ms. Truss will keep the regulated price at £1,971 for two years and fix the wholesale price of gas to help businesses. The subsidies, which could cost as much as £100-billion, would be paid through additional government borrowing, according to reports. She is also expected to lift the ban on fracking to help boost domestic supply.
The new Prime Minister will also have to deal with calls for a second referendum on Scottish independence and the fallout from Brexit in Northern Ireland, which has led to political deadlock in Belfast and strained relations with the EU.
Amid all of those priorities, Ms. Truss will also have to keep an eye on Mr. Johnson who will remain a backbench MP.
He left Downing Street with great fanfare on Tuesday. During a rousing speech outside No. 10, he listed his accomplishments, took a swipe at the MPs who pushed him out, and hinted at a possible comeback.
“Let me say that I am now like one of those booster rockets that has fulfilled its function and I will now be gently re-entering the atmosphere and splashing down invisibly in some remote and obscure corner of the Pacific,” he said. “Like Cincinnatus I am returning to my plough.”
Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus was a Roman military leader who, in 458 BC, left his farm to rescue the consular army which had been surrounded. He defeated the enemy and took power as dictator. But he stepped down once the crisis was over and returned to his farm. Legend has it that he was recalled as dictator a year later to resolve another crisis.
With a report from Reuters
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