Liz Truss May Have the Edge Over Rishi Sunak but ‘Foreign Policy Doesn’t Win Elections’: Experts

By Chris Summers
Chris Summers
Chris Summers
Chris Summers is a UK-based journalist covering a wide range of national stories, with a particular interest in crime, policing and the law.
August 17, 2022 Updated: August 17, 2022

Conservative Party members are voting for who will become their next leader and succeed Boris Johnson as prime minister, but what difference will it make if the government is led by Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak?

The Epoch Times spoke to Matthew Lesh, the head of public policy at the Institute for Economic Affairs, Stepan Stepanenko, a research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, and Steve Keen, a distinguished research fellow at University College London, about the two candidates’ strengths and weaknesses, and their priorities when it comes to foreign policy.

Sunak, a former chancellor of the Exchequer, had the support of 137 Tory MPs in last month’s ballot of the parliamentary party, while Truss got the backing of 113, pipping Penny Mordaunt in the final round by just eight votes.

But Lesh said: “Truss appears to be the front-runner in the polls. She is in pole position. It’s one of those times where MPs and party members seem to be divergent in their opinions.”

The winner of the leadership contest will be announced on Sept. 5, and whoever becomes prime minister they will need to hit the ground running, with rising energy bills, train strikes, and both a winter crisis in the NHS and a recession looming, not to mention the conflict in Ukraine.

‘Both Have an Uphill Challenge’

Lesh said: “They both have an uphill challenge when it comes to winning the next election considering the state of the economy, the slow economic growth, and the risk of recession, as well as Labour taking a more moderate stance [than under Jeremy Corbyn].”

UK China Boris Johnson
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson prepares to paint the eyes on Chinese Lions, as he hosts a Chinese New Year reception at 10 Downing Street in central London, on Jan. 24, 2020. (Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images)

So what are the major differences between Truss and Sunak on global issues?

Lesh said Truss appeared to be more in favour of the “free trade, global Britain” vision the party had promoted under Johnson, while Sunak was more protectionist.

He said: “Truss is in favour of opening up markets for British producers and, if there is divergence in their world views, she is more for grasping opportunities. Sunak has said these trade deals are too liberalising and not fair to producers and farmers. He is more sceptical about free trade. She is more pro-consumers while he is more pro-farmers.”

Lesh said there was no sign of any imminent trade deal with the United States, adding: “The Biden administration does not appear to have any appetite for it. A deal with India is much more likely.”

Sunak Seeks to Dispel Perception He Is a ‘Dove’ on China

As for China, Lesh said Truss was more of a “hawk” and Sunak a “dove” when it came to trade and other relations with Beijing.

Both have sought to portray themselves as tough on China.

During a debate in Stoke-on-Trent last month, Sunak said, “There was a time when Liz was talking about having a golden era of relationships with China and the mission there was talking about having deeper collaboration with things like food security and technology.”

Truss hit back by accusing the Treasury, under Sunak, of wanting “closer economic relations” with China, while the Foreign Office under her had taken “the toughest stance” towards Beijing, including “being clear that Taiwan should be able to defend itself.”

Truss has been foreign secretary during the Ukraine conflict and has portrayed herself as taking a hardline stance, but Stepanenko said, “Truss has sat in meetings when spending was discussed and the Ministry of Defence continued shedding staff and weapons, to the point where we can’t give Ukraine anything without leaving ourselves short.”

Stepanenko said backing Ukraine more aggressively might be popular with voters, and he added, “Foreign policy doesn’t win elections but with the amount we are spending on Ukraine and the amount of goodwill there is towards Ukraine, it’s a viable strategy to pursue.”

He added: “Neither of them are dealing with the unaddressed issue of Russian money in the party. It has plagued the party for many years.”

“While some of these donors are now British citizens, some have worked closely with the Kremlin and have not left on terrible terms. To accept funding from such people is questionable,” Stepanenko added.

Keen said he suspected Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer would prefer to take on Truss, rather than Sunak, at an election.

Epoch Times Photo
Sir Keir Starmer (left) and Boris Johnson walk through the Members’ Lobby following the State Opening speech of Parliament at the Palace of Westminster in London, on May 10, 2022. (Toby Melville – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

On Tuesday Alun Cairns, a former Welsh Secretary, became the latest high profile name to switch their support from Sunak to Truss.

Cairns follows Welsh Secretary Robert Buckland, who defected from the Sunak campaign on Friday, and former universities minister Chris Skidmore.

Lesh said: “Truss and Sunak have their own platforms but there is a lot of consistency between them. Both want to cut down on regulation and let UK businesses flourish and they both believe in market-based solutions.”

He said both were “perceived” as being on the right of the party, compared to Mordaunt, who was more to the left.

Epoch Times Photo
(L-R) Conservative leadership candidates Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss, and Kemi Badenoch; ITV presenter Julie Etchingham; and candidates Tom Tugendhat and Penny Mordaunt, on July 17, 2022. (Jonathan Hordle/ITV/Handout via PA MEdia)

Keen said the best way to try to prevent a recession, or make it less damaging, was for the government to put more money in people’s pockets by spending more and reducing the tax burden on those on lower incomes.

He pointed out Robert Menzies, a former Australian prime minister and a leading conservative, once said, “The real task of any government today, as well as of the business community and all sensible citizens, is to get that purchasing power exercised.”

If Truss becomes prime minister she will need to appoint a new foreign secretary.

Stepanenko said the “sensible choice” would be Tom Tugendhat, but he said if Sunak won it might be difficult, considering the bruising debate with Truss during the leadership contest, to keep her on as foreign secretary.

Chris Summers is a UK-based journalist covering a wide range of national stories, with a particular interest in crime, policing and the law.