British Prime Minister Liz Truss announced on Thursday that she is stepping down, just over six weeks after taking the reins of the Conservative Party as party leader.
Truss’s short tenure was marked by shock from the government’s mini-budget, which rattled UK markets, and by internal dissension within the party, leading to departures from cabinet and backbench MPs. expressing a lack of confidence in their new leader.
Truss said that “given the situation, I cannot fulfill the term for which I was elected by the Conservative Party”.
Another Conservative leadership race will take place in a week, Truss said in a short statement outside the Prime Minister’s residence at 10 Downing Street. She will stay until then.
It will be the fourth such contest for the party since David Cameron resigned following a referendum that saw British voters back an exit from the European Union.
“Conservative Clown Car”
The development came just a day after Truss expressed her desire to stay after apologizing for the tumultuous start to her leadership, saying she was “a fighter not a quitter”.
Kwasi Kwarteng, the government’s finance minister, resigned last week after his so-called September 23 mini-budget announcement rattled markets for his level of government borrowing during a period of economic uncertainty. He also angered opposition parties for his tax breaks for the wealthy.
Jeremy Hunt replaced Kwarteng and pledged on Monday to cut most of this mini-budget, which originally had the unconditional support of Truss.
Interior Minister Suella Braverman quit the cabinet on Wednesday after a breach of the rules, but in her departure letter she expressed “concerns about the direction of this government”.
“The business of government rests on people accepting responsibility for their mistakes,” Braverman wrote.
An effort by Truss supporters to shore up his position ahead of a fracking vote on Wednesday was seen by some MPs as brutal and exacerbated the government crisis, some MPs said.
Tory lawmaker Charles Walker told the BBC it was “a shambles and a disgrace”.
“I hope all those people who put Liz Truss [in office]I hope it was worth it,” he told the BBC. “I hope it was worth it to sit around the cabinet table because the damage they did to our party are extraordinary.”
The party also took a beating in the press. The newspapers that usually support the Conservatives were vitriolic. An editorial in the Daily Mail was headlined: ‘Wheels have come off Tory clown car’.
Leadership voting details to follow
Truss held a hastily arranged meeting on Thursday with Graham Brady, a senior Tory lawmaker who oversees leadership challenges through the 1922 Committee of Deputies. Brady was tasked with assessing whether the Prime Minister still has the support from Conservative MPs.
Brady promised more clarity later Thursday on another leadership contest.
“It’s certainly not a circumstance I would want to see,” he told a scrum of reporters.
There was “fairly broad consensus” for a significantly shortened process to determine the next leader, Brady added.
In his statement, Truss said a short contest would “ensure we stay on track to deliver on our fiscal plans and maintain our nation’s economic stability and national security.”
The short-lived honeymoon for Truss effectively ended on September 23, when Kwarteng’s planned 45 billion pounds (C$70 billion) in unfunded tax cuts sparked turmoil in financial markets, hammering the value of the pound and increasing the cost of UK 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 nearly all of Truss’ tax cuts, along with her flagship energy policy and pledge not to cut government spending. He said the government will need to save billions of pounds and there are “many difficult decisions” to make before presenting a medium-term budget plan on October 31.
The Conservatives have been in power since 2010. Since Cameron’s resignation six years later, Britain has seen three prime ministers installed before the general public has had a chance to speak: Truss, Boris Johnson and Theresa May.
May would end up winning a closer-than-expected election in 2017 against Jeremy Corbyn, but paid the price for lengthy negotiations with the EU over leaving Brexit. The strong-willed Johnson helped deliver Brexit and won a landslide mandate with an election rout at the end of 2019 that led to Corbyn’s ousting as Labor leader.
But Johnson’s disorganized style of government and pandemic rule-breaking allegations reduced his internal support within the party until he was forced to step down earlier this year.
Truss won the resulting summer leadership race to succeed runner-up Rishi Sunak, although a majority of MPs and party bigwigs backed Sunak, the former finance minister under Johnson. Grassroots party members were sympathetic to Truss to a large extent.
Truss was officially installed as prime minister on September 6, meeting Queen Elizabeth just days before the monarch’s death.
Opposition leader Keir Starmer of the Labor Party called for Truss’s resignation this week and demanded an immediate election so the British public can help determine the way forward as the country faces a number of problems, including the highest inflation rate since the early 1980s, at 10.1. percent, according to Wednesday’s latest economic report.
“The Tories cannot respond to their latest shambles by yet again snapping their fingers and shuffling people at the top without the consent of the British people,” Starmer said in a new statement after the resignation.
It was inevitable that Liz Truss would have to pursue all the damage she’s inflicted – but just swapping the leaders of a broken and chaotic Tory government isn’t enough.
There must now be a general election. People will accept nothing less.
Scottish National Party leader Ian Blackford shared that view, tweeting that ‘merely swapping the leaders of a broken and chaotic Tory government is not enough’.
French President Emmanuel Macron, briefed on developments in Brussels on Thursday, said it was important Britain regained “stability as soon as possible”.
“On a personal level, I’m always sad to see a colleague leave,” he added.
US President Joe Biden, in off-the-cuff remarks to reporters in Washington, hailed Truss as a “good partner” in supporting Ukraine as it fights a Russian invasion.