This content is not available in your region

'Europe not the cause of UK's problems', says UK PM frontrunner Liz Truss in leaked audio

Access to the comments Comments
By Alasdair Sandford  & AFP
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss reacts as she answers questions while taking part in a Conservative Party Hustings event in Perth, on August 16, 2022.
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss reacts as she answers questions while taking part in a Conservative Party Hustings event in Perth, on August 16, 2022.   -   Copyright  ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP

The favourite in the contest to succeed Boris Johnson as the UK's next prime minister has been heard criticising the productivity and culture of British workers, who she says need "more graft".

The leaked recording of Liz Truss, published in the Guardian, was made sometime between 2017 and 2019 when she was Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the number two post under the UK's finance minister.

In the recording, the current foreign secretary is also heard dismissing a common pro-Brexit argument. Commenting on a tendency in Britain to "want easy answers", she questions campaign claims that the welfare of British workers had been damaged by EU rivals.

"We say it's all Europe that's causing all these problems, it's all, it's migrants that's causing these problems but actually, what needs to happen is, you know, a bit more... a bit more graft (she laughs). It's not a popular message."

Although she backed "Remain" in the 2016 EU referendum, Truss has since become an ardent advocate for Brexit. She has led negotiations this year with Brussels — where diplomats have been dismayed by her hardline stance — and is the architect of planned UK legislation to tear up part of the divorce treaty covering Northern Ireland.

The frontrunner for Downing Street is heard in the recording commenting on the poor performance of British workers compared to foreign rivals.

"British workers produce less per hour... and that's a combination of the kind of skills and application," Truss says, adding that the situation is very different in London compared to the rest of the country.

"Essentially it's partly a sort of mindset and attitude thing I think... it's working culture basically. If you go to China it's quite different, I can assure you," the contender for the Conservative Party leadership goes on.

Truss questions whether the country's workforce are up to the challenge of improving productivity. 

"There's a fundamental issue of British working culture," she says. "Essentially if we're going to be a richer country and a more prosperous country, that needs to change, but I don't think people are that keen to change that."

Truss' campaign team did not deny the authenticity of these statements, but said they "lacked context".

"It is necessary to increase productivity, which leads to better wages and a better quality of life for employees across the UK," a source told AFP.

Liz Truss' comments echo those made in a 2012 book she co-wrote in which the British were criticised as "the worst idlers in the world".

Truss and former finance minister Rishi Sunak are currently travelling the country seeking the support of up to 200,000 Tory party members who have until September 2 to choose their new leader in a postal ballot. The foreign secretary is well ahead in the polls.

The winner will become prime minister, given the party's majority in parliament, succeeding Boris Johnson who resigned in early July after multiple scandals. The result is expected on 5 September.