U.K. PM Liz Truss resigns amid government chaos
LONDON — British Prime Minister Liz Truss resigned Thursday — bowing to the inevitable after a tumultuous, short-lived term in which her policies triggered turmoil in financial markets and a rebellion in her party that obliterated her authority.
Making a hastily scheduled statement outside her 10 Downing Street office, Truss acknowledged that “I cannot deliver the mandate on which I was elected by the Conservative Party.”
Hers is the third resignation by a Conservative prime minister in as many years and leaves a divided party seeking a leader who can unify its warring factions. Truss, who said she will remain in office for a few more days while that process unfolds, has been prime minister for just 45 days.
Just a day earlier she had vowed to stay in power, saying she was “a fighter and not a quitter.” But Truss couldn’t hold on any longer after a senior minister quit her government with a barrage of criticism and a vote in the House of Commons descended into chaos and acrimony just days after she was forced to abandon many of her economic policies.
A growing number of lawmakers had called for Truss to resign after weeks of turmoil sparked by her economic plan. When it was unveiled by the government last month, the plan triggered financial turmoil and a political crisis that has seen the replacement of Truss’ Treasury chief, multiple policy U-turns and a breakdown of discipline in the governing Conservative Party.
Earlier, Conservative lawmaker Simon Hoare said the government was in disarray.
“Nobody has a route plan. It’s all sort of hand-to-hand fighting on a day-to-day basis,” he told the BBC on Thursday.
Truss quit after a meeting with Graham Brady, a senior Conservative lawmaker who oversees leadership challenges. Brady was tasked with assessing whether the prime minister still has the support of Tory members of Parliament — and it seemed she did not.
“It’s time for the prime minister to go,” Conservative lawmaker Miriam Cates said earlier Thursday. Another, Steve Double, said of Truss: “She isn’t up to the job, sadly.” Legislator Ruth Edwards said “it is not responsible for the party to allow her to remain in power.”
Lawmakers’ anger grew after a Wednesday evening vote over fracking for shale gas — a practice that Truss wants to resume despite opposition from many Conservatives — produced chaotic scenes in Parliament.
With Conservatives holding a large parliamentary majority, an opposition call for a fracking ban was easily defeated. But there were displays of anger in the House of Commons, with party whips accused of using heavy-handed tactics to gain votes.
Chris Bryant, a lawmaker from the opposition Labour Party, said he “saw members being physically manhandled … and being bullied.” Conservative officials denied there was manhandling.
Rumours swirled that Conservative Chief Whip Wendy Morton, who is responsible for party discipline, and her deputy had resigned. Hours later, Truss’ office said both remained in their jobs.
Newspapers that usually support the Conservatives were vitriolic. An editorial in the Daily Mail was headlined: “The wheels have come off the Tory clown car.”
International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan, sent onto the airwaves Thursday morning to defend the government, insisted the administration was providing “stability.” But she was unable to guarantee Truss would lead the party into the next election.
“At the moment, I think that’s the case,” she said.
With opinion polls giving the Labour Party a large and growing lead, the Conservative Party decided its only hope of avoiding electoral oblivion was to replace Truss. But they remain divided over who exactly should do that.
The party is keen to avoid another divisive leadership contest like the race a few months ago that saw Truss defeat ex-Treasury chief Rishi Sunak. Among potential replacements — if only Conservative lawmakers can agree — are Sunak, House of Commons leader Penny Mordaunt and newly appointed Treasury chief Jeremy Hunt.
Whoever it is will be the country’s third prime minister this year alone. A national election doesn’t have to be held until 2024.
Truss’ downfall was hastened by the resignation on Wednesday of Home Secretary Suella Braverman. She quit after breaching rules by sending an official document from her personal email account. She used her resignation letter to lambaste Truss, saying she had “concerns about the direction of this government.”
“The business of government relies upon people accepting responsibility for their mistakes,” she said in a thinly veiled dig at Truss.
Braverman was replaced as home secretary, the minister responsible for immigration and law and order, by former Cabinet minister Grant Shapps, a high-profile supporter of her defeated rival Sunak.
The dramatic developments came days after Truss fired her Treasury chief, Kwasi Kwarteng, on Friday after the economic package the pair unveiled Sept. 23 spooked financial markets and triggered an economic and political crisis.
The plan’s 45 billion pounds ($50 billion) in unfunded tax cuts sparked turmoil on financial markets, hammering the value of the pound and increasing the cost of U.K. government borrowing. The Bank of England was forced to intervene to prevent the crisis from spreading to the wider economy and putting pension funds at risk.
On Monday Kwarteng’s replacement, Hunt, scrapped almost all of Truss’ tax cuts, along with her flagship energy policy and her promise of no public spending cuts. He said the government will need to save billions of pounds and there are “many difficult decisions” to be made before he sets out a medium-term fiscal plan on Oct. 31.
Speaking to lawmakers for the first time since the U-turn, Truss apologized Wednesday and admitted she had made mistakes during her six weeks in office, but insisted that by changing course she had “taken responsibility and made the right decisions in the interest of the country’s economic stability.”
Opposition lawmakers shouted “Resign!” as she spoke in the House of Commons. But Truss said she would not.
Labour Party leader Keir Starmer accused the Conservatives of lacking “the basic patriotic duty to keep the British people out of their own pathetic squabbles.”
He said that amid a worsening of cost-of-living crisis, “Britain cannot afford the chaos of the Conservatives anymore. We need a general election now.”
Shortest tenure as U.K. prime minister
LONDON — Liz Truss will go down in history as Britain’s shortest-serving prime minister, a leader whose grasp on power was so tenuous in recent days it spawned a jokey online contest to see whether she would outlast a head of lettuce. The lettuce won.
Liz Truss: 45 days, Conservative; Took office Sept. 6, 2022 and resigned Oct. 20, 2022 with plans to stay in office until a replacement is named.
George Canning: 121 days; Tory; April 10, 1827-Aug. 8, 1827; died.
Frederick John Robinson, Viscount Goderich: 144 days; Tory; Aug 31, 1827-Jan.21, 1828; replaced.
Bonar Law: 210 days, Conservative; Oct. 23, 1922- May 20, 1923; resigned due to ill health.
William Cavendish, 4th Duke of Devonshire, Whig; 236 days, Nov. 6, 1756-June 29, 1757; replaced.
William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne: 267 days; Whig; July 13, 1782-April 5, 1783; replaced.