UK leader Truss tackles key issues in first parliament appearance

Truss rebuffs opposition calls for a new windfall tax and promises to ‘fix’ post-Brexit trade deal with the EU.

UK Prime Minister Liz Truss
Truss speaks during her first session of prime minister's questions in the House of Commons [PRU/AFP]

British Prime Minister Liz Truss has ruled out a windfall tax on oil companies to pay for her plans to tackle the energy crisis.

Speaking during her first session of prime minister’s questions in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Truss rebuffed opposition calls for a new windfall tax, even as she refrained from explaining how she would fund a plan meant to help the public pay energy bills skyrocketing because of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

The plan is expected to be delivered on Thursday.

British news media reported that Truss planned to cap energy bills. The cost to taxpayers of that step could reach 100 billion pounds ($116bn).

“We shouldn’t be daunted by the challenges we face,” Truss said in her first speech as prime minister on Tuesday. “As strong as the storm may be, I know the British people are stronger.”

“I am against a windfall tax,” she told the legislators on Wednesday. “I believe it is the wrong thing to be putting companies off, investing in the United Kingdom just when we need to be growing the economy.”

Truss’s spokesman said she would not cancel a windfall tax imposed in May, but would not bring in a new one. She is also scrapping a previously announced increase in corporation tax from 19 to 25 percent.

‘Tory fantasy’

Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said that amounted to handing billions to energy firms that have pocketed hefty profits because of high energy prices.

Instead, the cost of energy price relief will have to be paid by British taxpayers, he said, branding Truss’s economic plans a “Tory fantasy”.

Also on Wednesday, Truss told lawmakers 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.

“I want to work with all of the parties in Northern Ireland to get the executive and assembly back up and running,” Truss told parliament.

“But in order to do that, we do need to fix the issues of the Northern Ireland protocol which has damaged the balance between the communities in Northern Ireland. I am determined to get on in doing that.”

Al Jazeera’s Andrew Simmons, reporting from London, said that Truss stood her ground in parliament

“Questions and answers in Parliament is the big test of any new prime minister. The actual end result … jury’s out, really. She did stand her ground. She did seem relatively calm. She did answer back in terms of the usual way the prime minister would do the attacks upon her,” he said.

“Keir Starmer was targeted in his approach. He knew where he could find weak points … but no one really had a killer blow in this exchange. It wasn’t a catastrophe for either side.”

New cabinet

Earlier on Wednesday, Truss held her first cabinet meeting, appointing a government diverse in race and gender and united in its support for the new leader’s staunchly free-market views.

Truss, 47, was appointed prime minister by Queen Elizabeth II on Tuesday after winning an internal election to lead the governing Conservative Party.

She immediately put her stamp on the government, clearing out many ministers from the administration of former Prime Minister Boris Johnson – notably those who had backed her leadership rival, Rishi Sunak.

British Prime Minister Liz Truss holds her first cabinet meeting at the 10 Downing Street in London
Truss holds her first cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street in London [Jeremy Selwyn/Pool via Reuters]

She made Kwasi Kwarteng her Treasury chief, a key role for a cabinet whose inbox is dominated by the energy crisis triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which threatens to push energy bills to unaffordable levels.

Kwarteng is the first Black holder of the job, formally titled Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Truss ally Therese Coffey becomes the UK’s first female deputy prime minister and also leads the health ministry as the state-funded National Health Service grapples with soaring demand and depleted resources in the wake of COVID-19.

For the first time, none of the UK’s “great offices of state” – prime minister, chancellor, foreign secretary and home secretary – is held by a white man.

James Cleverly, whose mother is from Sierra Leone, is foreign secretary and Suella Braverman, who has Indian heritage, has been named home secretary, responsible for immigration and law and order.

INTERACTIVE - Liz Truss UK cabinet

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies