Tracey Magee: Liz Truss is in for shortest honeymoon period in history

‘Be careful what you wish for.’ Isn’t that what they say?

Liz Truss obviously doesn’t hold with that idea.

After a seven-week campaign she’s finally been confirmed as the new Conservative leader over her opponent Riski Sunak, but winning the contest to become the next occupant of No. 10 Downing Street may prove to be the easy bit.

She took 57% of the vote compared to Sunak who got 43%. Not exactly a landslide, but a win nevertheless.

Her in-tray would make even the toughest politician blanch. Top of her government’s agenda will be the cost-of-living crisis with predictions of energy price rises reaching eye-watering proportions and inflation surging.

As a candidate she’s been able to remain vague on what her plans will be, but now she’s won the race she knows she’ll have to set out her next steps in detail.

Ms Truss says she’s going to unveil her plans within a week.

Her challenge will be marrying the ideological promises she made to Conservative Party members to get her new job with the harsh political realities of helping the voting public who now face a truly dire financial future.

Ms Truss began the race by insisting she doesn’t believe in “handouts,” now her team is briefing that she is set to announce a support package costing tens of billions of pounds.

Households in Northern Ireland will be entitled to benefit from any government interventions, but there could be a complication.

If the support comes in the form of tax cuts or benefit uplifts it can be administered by the Westminster government.

Theoretically any other money should be released as a Barnett consequential but, without a fully-functioning Executive in place to release the funds, there’s no obvious way to get the much-needed funds into people's pockets.

Note the confusion over the £400 energy payment. It’s apparently been resolved, although it still not clear when the money will be made available.

Of course Northern Ireland poses another specific problem – the NI Protocol and, alongside that, how to restore devolution.

At least Liz Truss is totally up to speed with the challenges.

As Foreign Secretary she sponsored the highly controversial NI Protocol Bill. As a result she’ll be only too aware that she is heading towards a showdown with the House of Lords when the bill is debated by peers in October.

The Protocol bill sailed through the House of Commons before the summer recess, but its passage through the House of Lords is likely to be far more fraught.

At the weekend there was newspaper speculation that Prime Minister Truss is considering a visit to Dublin to meet with Taoiseach Micheal Martin to sound out the possibilities for a deal on the Protocol.

A return to negotiations looks likely over coming weeks. Perhaps both sides could reach an accommodation.

Also any attempt to try to resolve issues with the EU, even an unsuccessful one, could soften the resistance from the House of Lords to the Protocol bill.

There’s always the possibility that the government will trigger Article 16. As one government source speculated to me, triggering Article 16 may not solve the problem, but it might make the NI Protocol bill more palatable for those who insist it is illegal.

So September will, in all likelihood, see negotiations renewed, but can the compromises be found to sort out the Protocol? It’s simply too early to tell.

And does the new prime minister have the bandwidth to make the compromises so necessary in any talks process.

As she positioned herself for her bid for the leadership Liz Truss cosied up to the right of her party. Now they will want her to make good on her commitments and that will mean she has less room to manoeuvre in future negotiations.

She cannot squander support from her backbenches. Don’t forget Ms Truss was not conservative MPs first choice. Only 113 backed her, while 137 supported Rishi Sunak.

The DUP is insisting it will not return to government until the NI Protocol is sorted to its satisfaction. The deadline to restore government is 28 October.

After that the New Decade New Approach legislation requires the government to call another election.

It will be up to the incoming NI Secretary of State – whoever that may be - to make good on that commitment.

Tomorrow Liz Truss will be confirmed as prime minister. Today she’ll be celebrating, but she’s in for the shortest honeymoon period in history.

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