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New British PM Liz Truss promises to tackle energy crisis, economy

Liz Truss became U.K. prime minister on Tuesday and immediately confronted the enormous task ahead of her amid increasing pressure to curb soaring prices, ease labour unrest and fix a health-care system burdened by long waiting lists and staff shortages.

Truss takes over from Boris Johnson as U.K. grapples with cost-of-living crisis

New British Prime Minister Liz Truss arrives at 10 Downing Street in London on Tuesday. Truss is promising to grow the economy and make the U.K. an 'aspiration nation,' while acknowledging the country faces 'severe global headwinds.' (Phil Noble/Reuters)

Liz Truss became U.K. prime minister on Tuesday and immediately confronted the enormous task ahead of her amid increasing pressure to curb soaring prices, ease labour unrest and fix a health-care system burdened by long waiting lists and staff shortages.

Truss quickly began appointing senior members of her cabinet as she tackles an inbox dominated by the energy crisis triggered by Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which threatens to push energy bills to unaffordable levels, shutter businesses and leave the nation's poorest people shivering in icy homes this winter.

Truss — Britain's third female prime minister — named a top team diverse in gender and ethnicity, but loyal to her and her free-market politics. Kwasi Kwarteng becomes the first Black U.K. Treasury chief, and Therese Coffey its first female deputy prime minister. Other appointments include James Cleverly as foreign secretary and Suella Braverman as home secretary, responsible for immigration and law and order.

Making her debut speech outside her new Downing Street home in a break between torrential downpours, Truss said she would cut taxes to spur economic growth, bolster the National Health Service and "deal hands on" with the energy crisis.

Truss, who refused to spell out her energy strategy during the two-month campaign to succeed Boris Johnson, now plans to cap energy bills at a cost to taxpayers of as much as 100 billion pounds ($152 billion Cdn), British news media reported Tuesday.

She is expected to unveil her plan on Thursday.

"We shouldn't be daunted by the challenges we face," she said in her first speech outside her Downing Street office. "As strong as the storm may be, I know the British people are stronger."

WATCH | Truss promises to secure Britain's energy supply: 

New U.K. PM sworn in as country faces economic challenges

3 months ago
Duration 2:01
Britain's newly elected Prime Minister Liz Truss was officially sworn in after meeting with Queen Elizabeth. She’s faced big political challenges during her first day on the job with the country in the midst of economic turmoil.

Truss said she would focus on tackling Britain's energy crisis, struggling economy and overburdened health service. She promised to grow the economy and make the U.K. an "aspiration nation," but acknowledged the country faces "severe global headwinds" because of COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine.

Truss, 47, took office Tuesday afternoon at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, when Queen Elizabeth formally asked her to form a new government in a carefully choreographed ceremony dictated by centuries of tradition. Johnson, who announced his intention to step down two months ago, formally resigned during his own audience with the Queen a short time earlier.

This is the first time in the Queen's 70-year reign that the handover of power took place at Balmoral, rather than at Buckingham Palace in London. The ceremony was moved to Scotland to provide certainty about the schedule because the 96-year-old Queen has experienced problems getting around that have forced palace officials to make decisions about her travel on a day-to-day basis.

Trudeau welcomes new PM

In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a statement congratulating Truss on her new role.

"Canada and the United Kingdom enjoy one of the strongest relationships in the world, rooted in centuries of shared history, values and traditions," he said. "I look forward to working with Prime Minister Truss to further strengthen the relationship between our two countries and make life better for people on both sides of the Atlantic."

He noted the governments are continuing negotiations toward a "comprehensive, ambitious and inclusive Canada-United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement, as well as the U.K.'s accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy received a call from Truss on her first day. She spoke with U.S. President Joe Biden, too.

Truss' office said she and Biden discussed the Ukraine war and defence cooperation, as well as economic issues and maintaining the British-Irish Good Friday Agreement. The leaders were expected to meet in person soon — likely around this month's UN General Assembly meeting in New York.

Truss delivers her first speech as prime minister outside 10 Downing Street on Tuesday. (Henry Nicholls/Reuters)

Many people in Britain are still learning about the person who is now their leader.

Unlike Johnson, who made himself a media celebrity long before he became prime minister, Truss rose quietly through the Conservative ranks before she was named foreign secretary, one of the top cabinet posts, just a year ago.

"I think we were all hoping for a bit more detail in the sense of what Liz Truss, the prime minister, was really going to be like and maybe a bit more depth about her governing philosophy," said Hannah White, acting director of the Institute for Government, a British think-tank.

Truss took office a day after the ruling Conservative Party chose her as its leader in an election where the party's 172,000 dues-paying members were the only voters. As party leader, Truss automatically became prime minister without the need for a general election because the Conservatives still have a majority in the House of Commons.

In theory, Truss has time to make her mark. She doesn't have to call a national election until 2024.

WATCH | Londoners weigh in on Truss:

Londoners chime in on new British PM Liz Truss

3 months ago
Duration 0:42
Londoners voiced their opinions on the new British Prime Minister Liz Truss, and how she'll address the hardships that their nation is facing.

But as a prime minister selected by less than 0.5 per cent of British adults, she is under pressure to show quick results.

"She thinks the key to economic growth is lower taxes. And that's the thing that is her real agenda. What she's being pushed into, which is way against her instincts, is a big program of government spending to support people in this situation," White said.

Ed Davey, leader of the opposition Liberal Democrats, on Tuesday called for an early election in October. He told the BBC that Truss hasn't outlined a plan to help with skyrocketing energy bills and the country's healthcare crisis.

"Given people are really worried, given people are losing sleep over their energy bills, businesses aren't investing because of the crisis, I think that's really wrong."

'Like Cincinnatus, I am returning to my plow'

Johnson took note of the strains facing Britain in his departing speech Tuesday, saying his policies had given Britain the economic strength to help people weather the energy crisis. He signed off with his typically colourful language.

"I am like one of those booster rockets that has fulfilled its function," Johnson said. "I will now be gently re-entering the atmosphere and splashing down invisibly in some remote and obscure corner of the Pacific."

Boris Johnson speaks outside 10 Downing Street on Tuesday before heading to Balmoral Castle in Scotland to offer his resignation to Queen Elizabeth. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/The Associated Press)

Johnson, 58, became prime minister three years ago after his predecessor, Theresa May, failed to deliver Britain's departure from the European Union. Johnson later won an 80-seat majority in Parliament with the promise to "get Brexit done."

But he was forced out of office by a series of scandals that culminated in the resignation of dozens of cabinet secretaries and lower-level officials in early July.

While many observers expect Johnson to attempt a political comeback, he backed Truss and compared himself to Cincinnatus, the Roman dictator who relinquished power and returned to his farm to live in peace.

"Like Cincinnatus, I am returning to my plow," he said. "And I will be offering this government nothing but the most fervent support."

With files from CBC News

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