Fri, 19 July 2024

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By Ben Guerin
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Liz Truss Says She Was Too "Loyal" To Resign From Boris Johnson’s Cabinet


6 min read

Foreign secretary Liz Truss has defended her decision not to resign from Cabinet as Boris Johnson’s government unravelled last week, claiming she stayed because she is a “loyal person”.

Truss's campaign to replace Johnson as leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister got off to a tricky start this week after she came third in the first round of MP voting with 50 votes, trailing behind Rishi Sunak’s 88 votes and Penny Mordaunt’s 67 votes.

Some in the party have suggested that Truss’s close alignment with the final chaotic days of Johnson’s government could have tainted her prospects, allowing underdog Mordaunt to take the lead among the right of the party.

While frontrunner Rishi Sunak was also in Johnson’s Cabinet, his resignation as Chancellor and long-running rumours about tensions between Number 10 and Number 11 could have served to neutralise his association with the outgoing Prime Minister.

Truss, however, is a staunch ally of Boris Johnson, and chose to remain in Cabinet last week when Sunak, health secretary Sajid Javid, Wales secretary Simon Hart and Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis all quit. 

The foreign secretary explained that she was "a loyal person" when asked why she remained when around 50 members of government ultimately resigned over Johnson’s leadership. 

"I’m loyal to Boris Johnson. I supported our Prime Minister’s aspirations,” she told reporters gathered at her leadership launch on Thursday. 

Asked whether she had been tainted by her association with Johnson, Truss insisted she had been “critical within Cabinet” of the proposed National Insurance rise, which she promised to reverse as PM.

“I care deeply about this country. I want us to be an aspirational nation, where people from all backgrounds and all parts of the United Kingdom have the opportunity to have a great education, be able to start their own businesses and realise their dreams,” she said.

“Everyone should have the same opportunities, regardless of their background or where they live. And that is what is levelling up is, in a Conservative way.”

Truss was also critical of some of the negative briefings directed towards candidates in the leadership campaign.

Truss's predecessor as lead Brexit negotiator Lord Frost, who resigned in protest last December, launched a blistering attack on her main opponent Penny Mordaunt on Thursday morning, in which he claimed he had “‘grave reservations” about Mordaunt's ability to lead the country.

“I’m sorry to say this, I felt she did not master the detail that was necessary when we were in negotiations,” Lord Frost told TalkTV.

“She wouldn’t always deliver tough messages to the EU when that was necessary.”

The Tory peer and former Brexit negotiator added: “She wasn’t always visible. Sometimes I didn’t even know where she was. It became such a problem that after six months I had to ask the prime minister to move her on.”

Asked if she agreed with Frost's comments, Truss said she was putting forward a “positive agenda” and “certainly won’t be making and disparaging comments about any of my fellow candidates”.

She added: “I think, in fact, the Conservative race shows the broad range of talent we have in the Conservative party. 

“We didn’t get there through identity politics. We didn’t get there through quotas. We got there because we are a meritocratic party that believes in the future of Britain.”

Setting out her pitch to be the next party leader at a speech in Westminster, Truss insisted she had “consistently delivered” during her time in government and was “ready to be Prime Minister from day one”.

“In government, I’ve consistently delivered and I’ve taken tough decisions. I stood up to Vladimr Putin, by targeting Russia with the toughest sanctions his regime has ever seen. And I would continue to lead the free world in opposing Putin and making sure Ukraine prevails,” she said.

“I don’t give in to Whitehall, I don’t give in to vested interests, and I don’t give in to the naysayers. I’ve proven time and again that I can deliver even when it's difficult.”

Among her policy offers to prospective voters was a pledge to give tax breaks to working parents and create “low tax zones” in parts of the UK.

"Our economy won't get back on track overnight, times are going to be tough, but I know I can get us on an upward trajectory by 2024," she said.

"We need to be honest with the public. This will be tough, it will take time, but I am determined to deliver. I know I can deliver, because I have taken bold decisions and made bold reforms throughout my career.”

Former Conservative party leader Iain Duncan-Smith echoed Truss’ claims that she had a track record of delivery in Cabinet, particularly regarding her record on Brexit despite backing Remain in 2016.

He told reporters: “The key thing here is — it's a question really you have to ask every candidate — what have you done since being in governance to genuinely drive Brexit forward so that we deliver benefits?”

“She’s the one that you can most identify has done a lot on Brexit. She hasn't shied away. 

Duncan Smith refused to single out other leadership candidates, but suggested that some didn’t have as strong Brexit credentials as Truss.

“I have some concerns about one or two people that were apparently strong Brexiteers, but have done nothing,” he added. 

He also dismissed concerns that Truss’s difficult first vote meant she could be out of the running. “This is the most duplicitous, lying electorate that you've ever come across — it's called MPs. Some of them tell everybody they're voting for them,” he said

"This contest doesn't really come alive until about the second round, and then suddenly people start moving around deciding who they want to do."

Meanwhile, Tom Tugendhat, who gained 37 votes from his colleagues in yesterday's first ballot, said he was "still in this fight".

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, he said: "Where will this go? I don't know, I can't tell you.

"But I can tell you that a lot of people – a lot of people – are looking at the options before them today and thinking differently about the votes they made yesterday and that's not surprising."

He added: "I offered to serve, and that's what I'll do, and it's up to others to decide whether or not they wish to have me.

"That's, I'm afraid, how democracy works. But I won't quit."

But the senior Tory backbencher, who has offered MPs a "clean start" from the current government, said he felt like a "prom queen" following various attempts by other candidates to win his backing if he is eliminated from the contest.

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