U.K.'s Liz Truss under fire over 'jury’s out' remark on French President Macron

The Opposition Labour Party accused Ms. Truss of a "a woeful lack of judgement".

August 26, 2022 04:54 pm | Updated 05:29 pm IST - London

Conservative leadership candidate Liz Truss. File

Conservative leadership candidate Liz Truss. File | Photo Credit: REUTERS

Britain’s prime ministerial hopeful Liz Truss, in the race against former chancellor Rishi Sunak to succeed Boris Johnson as Conservative Party leader, came under fire on Friday over her remarks about French President Emmanuel Macron.

The Foreign Secretary said the "jury is out" on whether Mr. Macron is a "friend or foe" of the U.K. and that if she becomes Prime Minister she will "judge him by deeds, not words".

She was responding to a quickfire question at a hustings event in Norwich on Thursday evening and in response to the same question, Mr. Sunak replied that the French President was a “friend” and has previously said he wants to reset the U.K.'s relationship with Europe if he wins the race to succeed Johnson.

The Opposition Labour Party accused Ms. Truss of a "a woeful lack of judgement" as it would be seen as an insult of one of "Britain's closest allies". Her own party colleagues also took to social media to criticise the comments, with former foreign minister Alistair Burt saying she has made a "serious error" and should have struck a more diplomatic tone.

During the hustings in eastern England, Ms. Truss was asked if the French President was a "friend or foe", to which she replied: "The jury is out." "If I become Prime Minister, I will judge him on deeds, not words," she added.

"You would have thought the foreign secretary was aware we are in a military alliance with France," said former Conservative minister Gavin Barwell in reaction.

Another former Tory minister, David Gauke, said: "There's playing to the gallery and then there's letting the prejudices of the gallery go to your head, especially when now is one of the worst times to try to fragment the West." Ms. Truss' comments have also been picked up by French media, which has highlighted post-Brexit strain in the U.K.-French relationship as well as recent tensions over migrant boat crossings in the English Channel and a new military pact between Britain, the U.S. and Australia called AUKUS.

In the same quickfire round of questions, Ms. Truss dubbed Opposition leader Keir Starmer as “extremely boring” when asked who she would rather be stuck in a lift with him or Scotland First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Mr. Sunak, in contrast, evoked audience laughter with his response when he said he would “rather take the stairs”.

The Norwich hustings marked the penultimate campaign event before a final hustings in event in London on August 31 ahead of the close of polling on September 2. The results will be declared on September 5 and the newly elected Tory leader will take charge at 10 Downing Street soon after.

While Ms. Truss is the frontrunner in the race according to most pre-poll surveys, Mr. Sunak has insisted that there is still “everything left to play for” and has also reaffirmed that he has no plans to quit politics if he is defeated.

However, the likelihood of him joining a Liz Truss led Cabinet is something he has left quite vague, only saying that he believes ministers need to agree on the big things “because it’s tough, as I found, when you don’t”, with reference to his disagreements with outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the lead up to his resignation as Chancellor last month.

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