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The United Kingdom's next prime minister could be a foreign policy hard-liner

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

On Monday, we'll learn who the new British prime minister is. Conservative Party members have cast their final votes today. Polling suggests it is likely to be Liz Truss. She is currently the foreign secretary, and Ben Judah's written about what her leadership would mean for Britain's role around the world. He is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

BEN JUDAH: Thank you very much for having me.

SHAPIRO: You describe Liz Truss as a political chameleon. What do you mean by that?

JUDAH: Liz Truss has made a career by telling whatever audience she was right in front of at a given time what they wanted to hear. She began her political career at Oxford. She was a liberal Democrat, and she was a campaigner for the legalization of cannabis and for the abolition of the royal family, two causes that were very popular amongst young liberals at the time. Then when she decided she wants to make a career in politics, she became a conservative, and she began her career as an MP at a time when the Conservative Party was dominated by people who wanted Britain to stay in the European Union. The moment the people who supported Brexit took over, she became an arch-Brexiteer and became an incarnation, in the eyes of radicals, of that cause.

SHAPIRO: So that political malleability seems like it would make it difficult to predict what kind of a leader she would be as prime minister. And yet you say she's a hard-liner on foreign policy. What leads you to that conclusion?

JUDAH: There is a throughline going through those political transformations, which is a kind of libertarian idealism and anti-authoritarianism. She's always had admiration for Margaret Thatcher, always really disdained the Soviet Union or the Chinese Communist Party. And she has been Britain's foreign secretary during the war in Ukraine. And she thinks that Britain needs to be tougher, harder, offer more support for the Zelenskyy government, rally the United States, press them when they're not being tough enough. And she thinks that we need to get tougher on China, too.

SHAPIRO: So do you expect her to chart a course that is more or less similar to Boris Johnson on the major issues facing the world today?

JUDAH: She's going to have more risk appetite than Boris Johnson. If Boris Johnson asked three people's opinion before doing something internationally, she'll only ask one. If Boris Johnson was at times tempted to cool it down in discussions with the Americans or the Chinese, she's going to be tempted to crank it up. But she's pretty chaotic, like Boris Johnson. And the question for her is, is she going to be able to execute any of this when she can't get her hands on the levers of state?

SHAPIRO: How do you think she'll get along with the U.S. and the Biden administration?

JUDAH: Boris Johnson knew he was really disliked by Biden and the people around him, and he was actually always tempted to be a bit deferential in conversations. She doesn't think like that at all. She's very straight-talking to American officials, think that the Americans refer to our relationship as a special relationship when there's nothing special about how America is treating Britain when it comes to trade.

SHAPIRO: That is considered slander in some circles. For a British prime minister to say there's nothing special about that relationship would be shocking.

JUDAH: Well, I think that's the view in Washington. But people have come to realize in the United Kingdom over the last few years, actually, America has plenty of special relationships. We're just one of many.

SHAPIRO: Do you think her risk-taking is likely to get her into trouble? I mean, I think about risk-taking in the United States that led to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that, you know, dragged on for years.

JUDAH: The issue with Liz Truss is that she's fascinated by foreign affairs and making an impact and trying to stand up to Russia and China. When she is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic and trying to run up new flags on it as it's hurtling right into an iceberg - and that iceberg is the energy crisis in which energy costs are soaring in Britain - and she's not proposed any solutions to this. Where does she stand on this? Not clear.

SHAPIRO: That's Ben Judah of the Atlantic Council, talking about the likely new British prime minister, Liz Truss. Thank you very much.

JUDAH: Thank you very much. Bye-bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
Michael Levitt
Michael Levitt is a news assistant for All Things Considered who is based in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Political Science. Before coming to NPR, Levitt worked in the solar energy industry and for the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. He has also travelled extensively in the Middle East and speaks Arabic.
Kathryn Fox