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Britain’s new Prime Minister Liz Truss sparred with opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer at the House of Commons at her first session of Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.

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The often rowdy weekly session, which saw the prime minister quizzed by MPs, tested Truss’s political mettle and rhetorical skills as well as her level of Conservative support.

Speaking at her first session of Prime Minister’s Questions, Truss said Britons want a government that would help fix their problems, notably a sharp rise in the cost of living and energy in particular. She said she would announce her plan to help people pay spiralling energy bills on Thursday.

“What the British people want is they want a government that is going to sort it out – and that is what I am determined to do as prime minister: sort out the energy crisis, get our economy going, make sure people can get doctor’s appointments. That’s what I’m focused on,” she said.

Truss said she wanted to see more extraction of oil and gas from the North Sea and more investment in nuclear power.

“I want to see us use more of our energy supply, including more oil and gas from the North Sea and nuclear power,” she said. 

But she said she rejected windfall taxes on the large profits now being made by some energy companies.

“I am against a windfall tax. I believe it is the wrong thing to be putting companies off investing in the United Kingdom,” Truss said.

Regarding Brexit, Truss said that she would get on and “fix” the agreement with the European Union covering post-Brexit trade between Britain and Northern Ireland, saying that was putting strain on efforts to restore its assembly. 

Tough challenges ahead

The 47-year-old won an internal ballot of Tory members on Monday, securing 57 percent of the vote, after a gruelling contest against former finance minister Rishi Sunak that began in July.

But the initial stage of the contest saw her net the support of less than a third of the parliamentary party.

She now faces a tough challenge reuniting the ruling Tories following a bitter leadership battle.

Conservative MPs are “almost ungovernable” and have “no appetite to cope with difficult decisions”, according to a government insider quoted by the Financial Times on Monday.

Labour has opened up a double-digit lead in the polls but may have to wait two years for the next general election. 

Truss vowed Monday to lead the Conservatives to victory “in 2024”, with an election due by January 2025 at the latest.

Truss, who officially became premier on Tuesday at an audience with head of state Queen Elizabeth II in Scotland, met her new Cabinet at a morning meeting. 

Its members include the most diverse top team in British history ever: Kwasi Kwarteng as chancellor of the Exchequer, James Cleverly as foreign secretary and Suella Braverman as interior minister.

The government’s new diversity reflects years of work by the right-of-centre Conservative Party to shake its “pale, male and stale” image. 

They face a daunting in-tray of issues, most notably decades-high inflation and how to deal with energy bills set to rise by 80 percent next month and even more again in January.

Meanwhile, the Bank of England has tipped the country to fall into recession later this year.

But Truss was bullish as she entered Downing Street for the first time as premier. “I am confident that together we can ride out the storm,” she said.

New British Prime Minister Liz Truss delivers her first address outside Downing Street in London, Tuesday, September 6, 2022.
New British Prime Minister Liz Truss delivers her first address outside Downing Street in London, Tuesday, September 6, 2022. © Kirsty Wigglesworth, AP

Her new ministers may be asked to sign off immediately on a plan to freeze energy bills for the coming winter, possibly longer, costing tens of billions of pounds, according to reports.

Tax cuts and diverting some health funding to social care could also reportedly be on the agenda.

“I will cut taxes to reward hard work and boost business-led growth and investment,” Truss promised, while also vowing “action this week” on gas and electricity bills and broader energy policy.

‘Dreadful policy’ 

Truss, who pitched herself to the Tory grassroots as a tax-cutting free-trade champion ready to slash taxes immediately to turbo-charge growth, faces warnings that these moves could make inflation worse.

The UK has already seen prices rise this year at their steepest rate for four decades, driven by spiralling energy costs.

Under her mooted plans to tackle the situation, gas and electricity bills for both households and businesses would be capped near current levels for the coming winter at least.

The government would lend or guarantee private sector loans to energy providers to make up the difference they pay with soaring global wholesale prices.

It remains unclear whether the government will pay for the plan through extra borrowing or ask consumers to pick up the tab over the next two decades through levies on their energy bills.

Paul Johnson, of the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies think-tank, said it was “a dreadful policy” but likely necessary. 

“Hugely expensive, untargeted, increases risk of shortages,” he noted on Twitter. 

But he warned the scale of the problem “means there may just be no practical alternative”.

Other pressing matters for Truss include resolving post-Brexit tensions with the European Union, particularly over trading arrangements in Northern Ireland, and Western support for Ukraine.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)

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