Does the Department for International Trade have a future? Boris Johnson’s embrace of a no-deal Brexit, the composition of his cabinet and his decision to appoint as its Secretary of State Liz Truss, the hawkish Chief Secretary to the Treasury, suggests it does.
Truss was among Johnson’s most energetic outriders during the leadership campaign, and was among the earlier converts to a no-deal Brexit in Theresa May’s last Cabinet. In many respects, her arrival won’t really change the job Liam Fox had done since May established DIT in 2016 – though many MPs will hope his successor speeds up the process of agreeing trade deals with third countries, particularly the US.
Arguably, however, her biggest challenge is domestic. The politics of international trade can be toxic, as Boris Johnson discovered during his first appearance at the dispatch box. Challenged to rule out the NHS ever being included in a US-UK trade deal, Johnson enthusiastically obliged.
The demands of electoral politics may clash with Truss’s free market instincts. In the immediate term, however, Truss’s role in Johnson’s administration will be as his optimism-peddler-in-chief – making the case for free trade on the airwaves ahead of an election, and weaponising DIT in a way the May government never really attempted to.