Another month, another Prime Minister.
The ructions in Westminster might well have launched a thousand memes about lettuce, but have also clearly put any policy work on hold.
This holds true for British EU policy, where the only clear shift since Boris Johnson’s time in office has been a shift in discourse and framing: both Truss and Sunak have gone down the path of warm words and conciliatory statements, instead of a reflexive rejection of anything ‘European’.
Obviously, at this stage in proceedings, it is hard to make any firm judgements about Sunak’s intentions, but the early indications are that he will follow Truss in talking up the possibilities of working better with the EU, but without much scope for moving on policy substance.
This was already evident during Truss’ brief stint:
So earlier this week I was dubious about the substance behind Truss' European charm offensive
Spoiler: still dubious, albeit for different reasons
— Simon Usherwood (@Usherwood) October 7, 2022
And it’s where I am now on Sunak:
Let's have a first crack at Sunak's EU policy
best guess for far: continuity Truss, for better or worse
— Simon Usherwood (@Usherwood) October 27, 2022
As a reminder, EU policy matters, whether or not a Prime Minister has it as a priority item (which neither Truss nor Sunak do): it touches on multiple fundamentals of British polity, politics and policy, which both requires attention and imposes constraints on the ability to flex positions:
It’s also useful to consider how that plays out in the Northern Irish context across the post-referendum PMs: Sunak seems set to follow Truss rather than either Johnson or May.
The basic challenge remains one of a lack of strategic direction for European policy, something that a new PM will not change by itself. While the new tone will welcome, that cannot be a long-term solution for the problems that exist.