Liz Truss to step back into political limelight before ‘hawkish’ China speech

Liz Truss speaks outside Downing Street in October 2022. Credit: AP Photo/Frank Augstein, File

Liz Truss is preparing to return to the political limelight before making a “hawkish” speech on China that could add to the pressure on Rishi Sunak. She is expected to make a number of media appearances in the coming week, having kept a low profile since becoming the shortest-lived prime minister in history. The Conservative backbencher will later this month address a conference of international politicians in Japan, with her speech billed as centring on Beijing’s threat to Taiwan. Her allies, including former Cabinet minister Simon Clarke, have recently formed the Conservative Growth Group to push for her tax-cutting agenda.

Ms Truss’s disastrous mini-budget of £45 billion in unfunded tax cuts ensured her tenure in Downing Street lasted only 49 days before she handed over to Mr Sunak in October. But her comeback could stoke divisions among Conservative MPs, with many more eager to hastily cut taxes than Mr Sunak and holding a more aggressive stance on China. The Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), a campaign group seeking to co-ordinate international pressure on Beijing, is arranging the event where Ms Truss will speak on February 17. She is expected to be joined by two other former prime ministers, Australia’s Scott Morrison and Belgium’s Guy Verhofstadt.

Liz Truss arrives at the G7 Foreign Ministers meeting as foreign secretary in Liverpool, in December 2021. Credit: AP Photo/Jon Super

One ally of Ms Truss said the speech will be “hawkish”, adding: “She’s expected to address Sunak’s decision to brand China a strategic competitor rather than a threat.” She had been expected to officially re-designate China as a “threat” in official speak, instead of a “systemic competitor” during her leadership. In November, Mr Sunak said the “golden era” of UK-Chinese relations was over but described the nation as a “systemic challenge” rather than a threat. That marked a dialling down of his language, having called it the “biggest-long term threat to Britain” during the summer leadership contest to replace Boris Johnson. Ms Truss’s return to the international stage will follow Mr Johnson’s re-mergence, having made visits to Ukraine to visit Volodymyr Zelenskyy and to the US.

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