The widow of Nobel Peace Prize-winning Unionist David Trimble on Wednesday night threw her weight behind Liz Truss - saying one of her husband’s last acts was to declare his support for her.
Lady Trimble said she and her husband believed the Foreign Secretary had the “best record and a viable plan to protect our Union” as a result of her opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Writing in The Telegraph, she said: “I am confident that my husband’s legacy, peace in Northern Ireland, will be safe with her.”
Lord Trimble, who died last month, was leader of the Ulster Unionist Party from 1995 to 2005, during which time he helped negotiate the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland.
Along with John Hume, the SDLP leader, he won the Nobel Peace Prize later that year for his “efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict in Northern Ireland”.
He joined the Conservatives in 2007, two years after he lost his Westminster seat along with many of his UUP colleagues.
Lady Trimble said one of the last things her husband did before he died was to ask his son to sort out voting papers in the Tory leadership election.
She wrote: “I believe that in this contest, Liz Truss has the best record and a viable plan to protect our Union and Northern Ireland’s integral place within it. I know David thought the same.
“One of the last things he did before we lost him was to ask his son to collect his voting papers so he could vote for Liz. He was adamant that she was what the country needed and I agree.
“She has already proven her resolve and bravery in the face of opposition to our most valuable asset, and I am confident that my husband’s legacy, peace in Northern Ireland, will be safe with her.”
Born Daphne Orr, Lady Trimble is an academic who served on the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.
Ms Truss met Lady Trimble on Wednesday morning before she took part in a leadership hustings with Rishi Sunak.
The endorsement came as the number of Tory MPs saying they support Ms Truss exceeded backers of Mr Sunak for the first time.
The former chancellor won the support of most MPs in the ballots before the contest opened to party members.
But according to the ConservativeHome website, a series of defections means 136 MPs are now supporting Ms Truss, compared with just 124 for Mr Sunak.
On Wednesday night, the Guido Fawkes website said there would be a further eight defections, bringing Ms Truss’s total up to 144.
With less than three weeks to go since the result is announced, a ConservativeHome survey showed Ms Truss now has the support of 64 per cent of members to Mr Sunak’s 32 per cent - a huge 32-point lead.
Truss says ‘no compromise’ on Protocol bill
Speaking at the hustings of Tory members just outside Belfast, the Foreign Secretary pledged to pass the Protocol bill “in full” and vowed to face down those in Whitehall, the House of Lords, the EU and the US who want Britain to compromise.
She said she would never compromise with Brussels on core principles, including eliminating the Irish Sea border and ending the powers of the European court.
Ms Truss also warned Remainer peers not to frustrate the passage of legislation to end checks on goods arriving from Great Britain.
“The fact is the Protocol is undermining the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. It is causing unfairness between the communities and we need to make sure it is fixed,” said Ms Truss.
“I worked hard to get a resolution with the EU on this issue. It wasn’t forthcoming but I’m not somebody who’s prepared to let the situation drift.
“I am absolutely determined to deliver it in full and to make sure it’s put into place because this is vital for the future of Northern Ireland and for the future of the UK.”
Ms Truss also pledged to make sure that people and businesses in the province “can benefit from the same tax breaks” as those situated in Great Britain.
She said fixing the Protocol issue will get the Stormont Assembly “back up and running”, adding: “As we make progress we will see power sharing reestablished.”
Sunak vows to restart talks with EU
At the same event, Mr Sunak took a different tack, promising to restart talks with the EU and seek a quickfire deal that would break the deadlock.
The ex-chancellor said people should be “in no doubt” about his commitment to the Protocol Bill, but warned that it will “take time to pass”.
“Of course, as a new prime minister, in the interim I would seek to talk to Europe and Ireland and the French to see if we can find a negotiated outcome,” he said.
“History shows us even when Europe say they’re not open to changing something, they have. A negotiated outcome will be far quicker so it’s worth trying.”
We need a prime minister who will defend our Union - and Liz Truss is that person
By Lady Trimble
We need a prime minister who is proud of our Union and not only unafraid to say it, but willing to stand up for our values at home and abroad.
It is clear that our values are under threat - at home from the tide of identity politics, and abroad as we have seen all too starkly from Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine.
I firmly believe that, based on these criteria, Liz Truss is the best candidate for prime minister.
Her Unionist credentials are undisputed and her record proves her commitment to upholding our values. She has stood up to Russia on the international stage and led our strong response to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, including supporting our allies in Eastern Europe.
At home, she has always been a proud defender of freedom of speech, pushing back against the identity politics lobby in her role as minister for women and equalities. She has a plan to deliver for our families and communities.
Unionism is another core Conservative value that is under threat, primarily as a result of the Northern Ireland Protocol. The Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement was one of the greatest political achievements of the 20th century and, I am proud to say, a core part of the legacy of my late husband David, for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize along with John Hume.
Together they brokered a hard-won peace agreement in one of the longest and most damaging conflicts this country has ever seen. That agreement is the bedrock of the prosperous and flourishing Northern Ireland we see today, based on relative political stability and peaceful cooperation.
Unfortunately, the Northern Ireland Protocol is putting these hard-won gains at risk. In David’s words: “It drives a coach and horses through the Agreement.” There needs to be a solution.
It will not be easy, but the alternative is a continued political impasse in Northern Ireland, ongoing disillusion of the Unionist community, and ultimately a breakdown of the fabric of our United Kingdom.
The Protocol was brokered in difficult circumstances to deliver on the key promises of Brexit for the whole UK, which itself is an essential prerequisite of our ability to act as an independent nation again. But clearly, now we are out of the European Union, we need to further develop our answer to how we address the challenges of Brexit on the island of Ireland so that it works for all parties and does not put at risk the peace my husband brokered.
This negotiation will take fortitude and strength of will, as David stressed in his last published article. In negotiations with the European Union, we cannot allow ourselves to be bullied or bent to the will of the EU. We must be prepared to stand up to Brussels and do whatever it takes to protect our Union and stability and prosperity in Northern Ireland.
This will require an iron will in seeing the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill through Parliament and into law. Achieving this is essential if we are to restore our political institutions in Northern Ireland and if we are to show the European Union that we will do whatever it takes to deliver the right solution for the UK.
We need a prime minister committed to the defence of our shared values and who will defend our Union and stand up to all who threaten it. I believe that in this contest, Liz Truss has the best record and a viable plan to protect our Union and Northern Ireland’s integral place within it.
I know David thought the same. One of the last things he did before we lost him was to ask his son to collect his voting papers so he could vote for Liz. He was adamant that she was what the country needed and I agree.
She has already proven her resolve and bravery in the face of opposition to our most valuable asset, and I am confident that my husband’s legacy, peace in Northern Ireland, will be safe with her.