Liz Truss quits after six chaotic weeks as UK prime minister

  • Truss says she will go next week
  • Sunak, Mordant are seen as contenders for higher positions
  • Boris Johnson could be back
  • Truss is Britain’s shortest-serving Prime Minister

LONDON, Oct 20 (Reuters) – Liz Truss resigned on Thursday after the shortest, most chaotic tenure of any British prime minister, with her economic program tarnishing the country’s reputation for financial stability and impoverishing many people.

The Conservative Party, which has a large majority in parliament and does not need to call a national election for another two years, will now choose a new leader by October 28 – Britain’s fifth prime minister in six years.

That contest is likely to pit former finance minister Rishi Sunak against Penny Mordaunt, but could also see the return of Boris Johnson, who was ousted as prime minister in July when his ministers resigned en masse to oust him.

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Another unpopular Prime Minister’s resignation speech in Downing Street – and the start of a new leadership race – underlines how volatile British politics have become since the 2016 vote to leave the European Union.

Speaking outside the door of her No 10 office, Truss admitted she had lost the confidence of her party and would step down next week. As she spoke, the pounds increased.

“That is why I have spoken to Her Majesty the King to inform him that I am resigning as leader of the Conservative Party,” said Truss, who was supported only by her husband and was notably absent from her colleagues and loyal ministers.

Coalition leaders said they would continue to work with her successor and stressed the importance of stability.

Bar chart showing tenure of British prime ministers since 1970.

Truss was elected to lead the Conservative Party in September by its members, not the wider electorate, and with the support of about a third of the party’s MPs.

She promised tax cuts to fund debt, deregulation and a sharp shift to the right on cultural and social issues.

But within weeks she was forced to sack her finance minister and closest political ally, Kwasi Kwarteng, and her plans for massive unfunded tax cuts were abandoned as the pound crashed and British borrowing costs and mortgage rates rose.

Approval ratings for her and the party plummeted.

On Wednesday she lost the second of the government’s four most senior ministers, as she sought to defend her record in parliament and her MPs were seen openly squabbling over policy, adding to a sense of chaos in Westminster.

New finance minister Jeremy Hunt is now scrambling to find billions of pounds of savings to reassure investors and rebuild Britain’s financial standing.

With the economy heading into recession and inflation at a 40-year high, millions of Britons are struggling with a cost-of-living crisis.

Hunt, who has pulled himself out of the leadership race, is due to present a new budget on October 31 that is likely to cut spending on public services that are already showing clear signs of strain.

A senior Conservative MP said Sunak and Mordaunt were keen to keep Hunt as their finance minister.

Next race for Downing Street

After 170,000 party members elected Truss at Westminster, one of the most contentious issues facing the Conservatives is how they choose a new leader. Party factions have battled over the direction of the country since the Brexit vote.

Candidates have been whittled down to two by votes of several MPs over several weeks in previous contests, before the membership chooses a winner. Many Conservative MPs say this cannot be allowed to happen again.

“Members can’t have a say, we have to sort this out,” said one MP. Asked if the party could rebuild its reputation from this point, he added: “Never in a million years.”

Organizers said any candidate would need the support of 100 MPs and if only one crossed the threshold by 2pm (1300 GMT) on Monday, he would automatically become prime minister. If two candidates remain, party members will vote online.

Among those expected to run for the role is Sunak, a former Goldman Sachs analyst who became finance minister when the Covid-19 pandemic hit Europe.

Although he proved correct in his warnings that Truss’s fiscal plan threatened the economy, he remains unpopular with some Conservatives after helping to lead the summer rebellion against Johnson.

Popular former defense minister Penny Mordaunt, Suella Braverman, interior minister who resigned on Wednesday and trade minister Kemi Badenoch could also run, along with other potential hopefuls unlikely to reach 100 nominations.

Johnson, who still faces an inquiry into whether he and his staff misled parliament after hosting several parties during the COVID-19 lockdown, could also be a candidate.

Since he became Mayor of London in 2008, the face of the 2016 Brexit campaign has loomed large over politics. He led his party to a landslide election victory in 2019 but was ousted in July by colleagues angered by his behaviour.

“I hope you enjoyed your holiday boss. Time to come back,” James Duddridge, a Conservative MP, said on Twitter, adding “#bringbackboris”.

A poll of party members earlier this week showed Johnson most wanted to return, but betting odds favored Sunak ahead of Mordaunt, Defense Minister Ben Wallace and Johnson.

When he died in 1827, Truss would go down in the history books as the shortest-serving Prime Minister, succeeding George Canning, who served 119 days in the role.

The main opposition Labor Party – and many voters – have called for a general election.

“She wasn’t voted for and certainly, the policy decisions she made, the British people didn’t ask any of them,” Kelly Rogers, 50, told Reuters outside Downing Street. “Therefore (it is) right and proper that she should go.”

“But equally, she’s just symbolic of her party – it’s a total mess.”

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Written by Kate Holton; Additional reporting by Muwija M, Farooq Suleman, William James, Sachin Ravikumar, Kylie McLellan and Reuters TV; Edited by Catherine Evans

Our Standards: Principles of Thomson Reuters Trust.

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