Northern Ireland

New British PM Liz Truss's engagement with nationalists and the middle ground has been minimal

Liz Truss with Mervyn Gibson in January this year
Liz Truss with Mervyn Gibson in January this year

LIZ Truss has visited the north on at least four occasions, most recently for last month's Tory leadership hustings event.

However, during all her trips engagement with nationalists and even the so-called middle ground has been minimal.

In her role as environment secretary in David Cameron's government, she visited Balmoral Show in 2016 ahead of the EU referendum.

On that trip, the chief proponent of the British government's Northern Ireland Protocol Bill was highlighting the value of EU membership to the north's food and farming sector.

"We can't guarantee anything if we leave," she said of the impending referendum that would see the UK as a whole vote for Brexit.

Ms Truss returned to the north in January this year in her role as chief Brexit negotiator but faced criticism for meeting a senior member of the Orange Order and loyalist community representatives, while failing to engage with other civic society groups or the SDLP, Alliance or Ulster Unionists.

Along with former secretary of state Brandon Lewis, she met a delegation which included Orange Order Grand Secretary Mervyn Gibson, independent councillor John Kyle and Debbie Watters of Alternatives restorative justice group, at the organisation's offices off the Shankill Road.

Commentator Brian Feeney described the future Tory leader's actions on that occasion as a "perfect illustration of the partisan British behaviour".

Rev Gibson, a Presbyterian minister and former RUC Special Branch officer, last month took to social media to show his support for Ms Truss.

He subsequently told The Irish News he believed she "understands that there will be no return to Stormont until the protocol is sorted".

Asked whether he trusted the then bookies' favourite to succeed Boris Johnson, Rev Gibson said he had "no choice but to".

Ms Truss was back again in May, when once again media access was limited.

In Lisburn she visited transport company McCulla, whose managing director Peter Summerton is a member of the Road Haulage Association (RHA), which claimed in May that the estimated extra costs to the logistics sector as a result of the protocol were a "conservative 30-35 per cent".

It was reported at the time that Ms Truss said close engagement with the RHA and other organisations would be necessary to ensure the British government's contentious legislation was fit for purpose.