Liz Truss as the UK's new prime minister: What this means for the Middle East

Liz Truss as the UK's new prime minister: What this means for the Middle East
Truss, who has won the race for the UK premiership, is likely to focus on pre-existing trade deals with the Middle East, but is not likely to focus on human rights in Palestine and the wider region
4 min read
05 September, 2022
Truss will begin her duties as UK prime minister on Tuesday [Getty]

Liz Truss was announced on Monday as Britain’s next prime minister, in a vote that saw her beat her rival, former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak by 81,326 votes to 60,399 after a months-long contest that was prompted by Boris Johnson’s resignation in July.

Truss, who was formerly foreign secretary, is expected to expand on her already-existing policies concerning the Middle East and North Africa region.

She is most likely to emphasise trade and business given the worsening economic situation sweeping the UK and many countries across the globe in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Here is what is expected to occur in the MENA region following Truss’ victory, who will formally assume her new position on Tuesday:

Trade and Economy

Truss, who served as the UK’s Secretary of State for International Trade, has been described as "pragmatic and trade-focused" by the Conservative Middle East Council (CMEC) think-tank, and will look to prioritise and maximise trade opportunities and relationships with MENA countries, particularly the Gulf states.

She is also likely to explore non-traditional trade deals in the region.

Charlotte Leslie, director of CMEC, told The New Arab that Truss is likely to look at other trading areas which were previously managed by the EU, which the UK left in 2020.

Truss will want to tap into new markets in the MENA region as a 'replacement' to what once was available through the European Union. Leslie predicts that Truss will be looking to Algeria for "possible gas and energy deals", to make up for reduced Russian gas supplies to Europe and the UK.

Truss will also likely explore similar deals in other gas-rich countries in the region.

Leslie told The New Arab that Truss will look for these deals given the fact that post-Brexit Britain continues to economically compete with the EU.

Leslie added that the UK should look out for an appointment of a Middle East and North Africa minister encompassing the entire region, rather than the current case where there are three ministers for each of the Middle East's sub-regions - North Africa, the Levant and the Gulf states.


Israel and Palestine

Chris Doyle, the director of the Council of Arab-British Understanding (CAABU), told The New Arab that what he described as former Prime Minister Boris Johnson's "anti-Palestinian" approach would become "even sharper" under Truss, and that she will likely go ahead with bolstering London’s already-strong relations with Israel.

In a bid to strengthen her campaign for the premiership, Truss hinted to the UK lobby group Conservative Friends for Israel she would review moving the UK’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Doyle predicted that Truss will go ahead with this, saying that this will show "how far she is willing to go" with Israel.

He said she is likely to show "a lack of interest in the Palestinian cause".

Recently, Truss stressed Israel’s "right to defend itself" following Israeli strikes on Gaza earlier in August, which killed 49 people including a large number of children.

Doyle said it will be even "tougher" to raise Palestinian-related issues in parliament, when Truss begins her duties as prime minister.

In May, Truss came under fire from Amnesty International for failing to call for investigations into the Israeli killing of veteran journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and for not highlighting Israel’s attacks on media freedom.

She has generally been criticised for not condemning Israeli violence in Palestine. 

Live Story

Human Rights

Doyle said that human rights would likely "slip off the agenda" under Truss’s leadership, with her priorities focused on trade deals. He also predicted that the UK’s foreign policy will shift to Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, with less focus given to issues relating to the Middle East.

Doyle expects that "no initiatives will be taken" on Syria, Libya and Yemen - countries that are still plagued by civil war and in-fighting between rival governments.

Recently, Truss was criticised by the family of Alaa Abdel-Fattah, an Egyptian dissident imprisoned on charges of "spreading false news," for her "inaction" on securing Abdel-Fattah's release, who is also a British citizen.

The UK, under Truss’ premiership, will likely follow its pre-existing policies on the Middle East, in line with the US and the EU, but will not prioritise the region as such, with the exception of trade and bilateral deals, as well as the ongoing Iranian nuclear talks.

Doyle said a shift in policy will only occur in the event that "an incident affects a key British interest".