Gone in 45 days: UK’s Liz Truss resigns after shortest prime ministerial term ever
Disastrous stint defined by backflip on rejected economic policy; new Conservative Party leader to be chosen by October 28, but Labour’s Keir Starmer demands early elections
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. I have therefore spoken to His Majesty the King to notify him that I am resigning as leader of the Conservative Party,” she said.
The election to replace Truss as Conservative leader should take place by October 28, the official in charge said Thursday.
“It will be possible to conduct a ballot and conclude a leadership election by Friday the 28th of October. So we should have a new leader in place before the fiscal statement which will take place on [October] the 31st,” Graham Brady, chairman of the influential 1922 Committee of backbench MPs, told reporters.
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, had been prime minister for just 45 days — the shortest period ever for a British premier. (The previous record was held by George Canning, who died in office after 119 days as prime minister in 1827.)
Liz Truss resigns as Prime Minister after just 45 days. She says there will be a leadership election within the week.
Watch her statement in full pic.twitter.com/8ltaKS7A3I
— ITV News (@itvnews) October 20, 2022
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’s 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.
Rumors swirled that Conservative Chief Whip Wendy Morton, who is responsible for party discipline, and her deputy had resigned. Hours later, Truss’s 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’s 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 on September 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 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 almost all of Truss’s 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 October 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 cost-of-living crisis, “Britain cannot afford the chaos of the Conservatives anymore. We need a general election now.”
Arriving at an EU summit, France’s President Emmanuel Macron said he would not comment on British domestic politics, but added: “It is important that Great Britain regains political stability very quickly, and that is all I wish.”
Relations between Paris and London have often been sour as Britain negotiated its divorce from the European Union, and threatened to get worse as Truss courted the hardline pro-Brexit wing of her party.
Russia, on the other hand, said Britain has “never known such a disgrace as prime minister.”
“The catastrophic ignorance and the queen’s funeral immediately after her audience with Liz Truss will be remembered,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Telegram.
Relations between Moscow and London have deteriorated for years, over issues such as the 2018 poisoning of a former Russian spy in Salisbury. They have reached record lows since Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine.
The UK is one of Kyiv’s staunchest supporters and Russia considers it one of the most unfriendly Western countries.