2H6JT2N one use

Source: Alamy

Truss understands the food and drink industry better than any other person to have been the nation’s biggest political cheese

Barring the arrival of aliens, Liz Truss will be declared prime minister on 5 September 2022. She will be the first food and farming secretary – whatever the actual name of the department – to become PM. But readers should not be sending ‘popping corks’ emojis to their social media contacts at this news.

Truss understands the food and drink industry better than any other person to have been the nation’s biggest political cheese. She has a genuinely high regard for many individual farmers, manufacturers and retailers, but she is sharply critical of their demands of government, their contribution to the UK economy and their productivity. She does not see the industry as a special case.

A better guide to Truss as PM is what she learned as Treasury chief secretary and what she did at the Department of International Trade. As the former, she confirmed her visceral dislike of high taxes. At DIT, she demonstrated a burning passion for free trade: she sees it as the key to unlocking the UK’s post-Brexit economy. I would guess that the most influential TrussWorld voice from food and drink is former New Zealand minister Lockwood Smith. His total commitment to deregulation mirrors that of Truss.

The biggest task for the Truss government will be tackling the cost of living crisis. It will need to take action – and fast. The members of Team Truss, which has deftly woven together Tory Spartans of the ERG, Boris Johnson adorers and more traditional Thatcherites, have very different views on what should be done. To resolve that conflict, the new PM will fall back to her core belief that government must give taxpayers back as much of their money as possible and let them choose how to spend it. She thinks that’s the best way to keep her supporters together through the tumultuous times to come.

She will also follow the Thatcher practice of picking a fight with those she deems ‘enemies within’. It will be a long list. Expect trouble for Andrew Bailey and the Bank of England (set to carry the can for not controlling inflation), civil servants (for being unproductive blockers to reform) and the unions. We can also expect the EU to loom large as Truss seeks to reform the Northern Ireland protocol.

Whether she is prepared to go through with an immensely costly trade war with the EU – the inevitable consequence of unilateral action on the protocol – will be the second big test for the government. If David Frost resurfaces in Cabinet or in No 10, you can bet she’s decided on a punch-up.

Throughout the summer, a zombie government has sat on its hands, repeating the mantra ‘help is coming’. In just a few days all that will change. The representatives of food, farming and retail must be at the top of their game.

To succeed, they must articulate the difficulties faced by each sector without hand-wringing. They must underline the huge value the industry creates. They must identify and demonstrate the contribution it will make to easing the crisis for millions of our citizens.

It’s a tall order. After three tumultuous years of Brexit, Covid and and supply chain disruption, we are back in an even bigger mess. For Liz Truss, it is the biggest moment of her life. It would require the hardest of hearts not to hope she’s up to it.