LIZ TRUSS: A QUICK GUIDE TO THE UK’S SHORTEST-SERVING PM
Liz Truss has resigned as the UK’s prime minister after six weeks. Here’s what you need to know about her if you don’t regularly follow politics.
She was the shortest-serving UK prime minister
Liz Truss replaced Boris Johnson as leader and became PM on 6 September then resigned 45 days later. The previous record was set at 119 days by George Canning who died in office in 1827.
Her ‘mini-budget’ caused huge economic problems
With her support, finance minster Kwasi Kwarteng unveiled £45bn of tax cuts in her third week. But it was widely blamed for reducing the value of the pound and panicked financial markets. Almost all of it has now been reversed – and Kwarteng was sacked as chancellor.
Some of her own MPs started openly criticising her
Dozens of Tories called on her to step down and her Home Secretary Suella Braverman resigned. She had to hire former rivals Grant Shapps and Jeremy Hunt to plug the gaps in her top team.
She went back on what she promised to do
She had pledged to cut taxes and boost the economy but in her resignation speech outside Downing Street, she said: “I recognise that I cannot deliver the mandate on which I was elected by the Conservative Party.”
She won a leadership campaign to become PM, not a general election
Only Conservative MPs and party members got to vote to make her leader. After two months of voting she beat the former Chancellor Rishi Sunak in the final round with 80,000 votes.
We’ll find out next week who will replace her
There will be a much shorter leadership contest that is expected to be over by Friday. She will stay on as leader until her replacement is announced.
We don’t know what she is going to do next
She’s still the MP for South West Norfolk. Before politics she worked for Shell and Cable & Wireless. She is married and has two daughters.
END OF BBC ARTICLE
LIZ TRUSS: THE TEENAGE LIB DEM WHO
LASTED JUST 45 DAYS AS PM
20 OCTOBER 2022
Liz Truss has resigned as prime minister after a chaotic 45 days in Downing Street. But where did she come from and what makes her tick?
A Remain supporter who became the darling of the Brexit-backing Conservative right wing.
A former Liberal Democrat activist, who marched against Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, but claimed to be the keeper of the Thatcherite flame. It is fair to say that Mary Elizabeth Truss has been on a political journey.
She was not a household name, like her predecessor Boris Johnson, when she became PM. But she leaves having made history; serving the shortest tenure of any UK prime minister.
During the leadership election this summer, her promise to return to fundamental Conservative values – cutting taxes and shrinking the state – proved to be exactly what party members, who got the final say over who took over from Mr Johnson, wanted to hear.
And, crucially, as foreign secretary she had remained loyal to Mr Johnson until the bitter end, as other ministers deserted him. It won her favour with Johnson loyalists.
Grassroots Tory supporters of Liz Truss saw in her the steadfast, tenacious and determined qualities they admired in Margaret Thatcher – an image Ms Truss herself has tried to cultivate.
But despite her shifting political positions and allegiances over the years, these words also come up frequently when friends and family are asked to describe her character – along with “ambitious”.
Liz Truss: The basics
Place of birth: Oxford
Home: London and Norfolk
Education: Roundhay School in Leeds, Oxford University
Family: Married to accountant Hugh O’Leary with two teenage daughters
Parliamentary constituency: South West Norfolk
“She’s a very opinionated person in terms of what she wants,” said her brother Francis in 2017, when recalling his older sister’s teenage dalliance with vegetarianism.
“When you go to a restaurant, you might be 14 but she was precocious about what she wants, what she didn’t want.”
When the family played Cluedo or Monopoly, “she was someone who had to win,” added Francis in a BBC Radio 4 profile of Truss.
“She would create some special system to work out how she could win.”
Maurizio Giuliano, a university contemporary who first met her at a Liberal Democrat event, says she stood out from the other students.
“I remember her being very well-dressed compared to other 18 to 19-year-olds. She also had the demeanour of a real adult compared to what we were at that age.
“She was forceful and opinionated and she had very strong views.”
Serious political debate was the order of the day in the Truss household, according to Francis, the youngest of her three younger brothers.
“You didn’t sit around talking about the latest Megadrive game at the dinner table, it was much more issues, political campaigns etc,” he told Radio 4’s Profile programme.
It must have felt inevitable that she would get involved in politics in some capacity when she grew up, but no-one in her family would have predicted the path she eventually took.
Born in Oxford in 1975, Ms Truss has described her father, a mathematics professor, and her mother, a nurse, as “left-wing”.
As a young girl, her mother took her on marches for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, an organisation vehemently opposed to the Thatcher government’s decision to allow US nuclear warheads to be installed at RAF Greenham Common, west of London.
Though she is now proudly a Conservative from Leeds, back then she was a Scottish liberal.
The family moved to Paisley, just west of Glasgow, when Ms Truss was four-years-old.
In a BBC interview, she recalled shouting “Maggie, Maggie, Maggie – oot, oot, oot,” in a Scottish accent, as she took part in marches.
The Truss family later decamped to Leeds, where she attended Roundhay, a state secondary school. She has described seeing “children who failed and were let down by low expectations” during her time there.
Some of Ms Truss’s contemporaries at Roundhay have disputed her account of the school, including Guardian journalist Martin Pengelly, who wrote: “Perhaps she is selectively deploying her upbringing, and casually traducing the school and teachers who nurtured her, for simple political gain.”
One Roundhay school mate, who did not want to be named, told the BBC: “It was a really good school, really supportive teachers. Quite a lot of us have gone on to good universities and good careers.”
Although not part of her friendship group, he has clear memories of the young Truss.
“She was quite studious, serious,” he says, with a “heavy social conscience” and part of a group that were into environmentalism.
“I remember a school trip to Sellafield and her asking difficult questions and giving them a grilling. I remember that quite distinctly.”
At Oxford University, Ms Truss read philosophy, politics and economics. Friends recall a well-liked, if frenetic student.
“I remember her determination which was very impressive for me,” says Jamshid Derakhshan, who was studying for a postgrad degree in mathematics when Truss was an undergraduate.
“She was very quick with everything. Going around the college quickly, being everywhere.”
As to what sort of prime minister his old friend will make, Dr Derakhshan says: “My feeling is she’s not going to be stuck with one particular idea, she’s very flexible in her mind and what will be best for the time.”
Ms Truss was involved in many campaigns and causes at Oxford but devoted much of her time to politics, becoming president of the university’s Liberal Democrats.
At the party’s 1994 conference, she spoke in favour of abolishing the monarchy, telling delegates in Brighton: “We Liberal Democrats believe in opportunity for all. We do not believe people are born to rule.”
She also campaigned for the decriminalisation of cannabis.
“Liz had a very strong radical liberal streak to her,” said fellow Lib Dem student Alan Renwick in 2017.
“We were setting up the Freshers Fair stall, Liz was there with a pile of posters, saying ‘Free the Weed’ and she just wanted the whole stall to be covered with these posters.
“I was scurrying around after Liz trying to take these down and put up a variety of messages, rather than just this one message all over the stall.”
Her conversion to conservatism, towards the end of her time at Oxford is said to have shocked her left-leaning parents, but for Mark Littlewood, a fellow Oxford Lib Dem, it was a natural progression.
“She’s been a market liberal all of her adult life,” according to Mr Littlewood, who is now director general of the libertarian, free market think-tank, the Institute of Economic Affairs.
“Her political career reflects her ideology – she has always been highly sceptical of big government and privileged institutions who think they know best,” Mr Littlewood said.
She clearly changed parties, but that “was a judgement about what’s the best and most likely vehicle for her to succeed in politics and get what she wants to get done,” Mr Littlewood said.
Nevertheless, what she has described as her “dubious past” came back to haunt her as she tried to convince Tory members she was truly one of them.
At a leadership hustings in Eastbourne, some in the audience jeered, as she told them: “We all make mistakes, we all had teenage misadventures, and that was mine.
“Some people have sex, drugs and rock and roll, I was in the Liberal Democrats. I’m sorry.”
She had become a Conservative because she had met like-minded people who shared her commitment to “personal freedom, the ability to shape your own life and shape your own destiny,” she explained.
After graduating from Oxford she worked as an accountant for Shell, and Cable & Wireless, and married fellow accountant Hugh O’Leary in 2000. The couple have two children.
Ms Truss stood as the Tory candidate for Hemsworth, West Yorkshire, in the 2001 general election, but lost. She suffered another defeat in Calder Valley, also in West Yorkshire, in 2005.
But, her political ambitions undimmed, she was elected as a councillor in Greenwich, south-east London, in 2006, and from 2008 also worked for the right-of-centre Reform think tank.
Conservative leader David Cameron put Ms Truss on his “A-list” of priority candidates for the 2010 election and she was selected to stand for the safe seat of South West Norfolk.
But she quickly faced a battle against de-selection by the constituency Tory association, after it was revealed she had had an affair with Tory MP Mark Field some years earlier.
The effort to oust her failed and Ms Truss went on to win the seat by more than 13,000 votes.
She co-authored a book, Britannia Unchained, with four other Conservative MPs elected in 2010, which recommended stripping back state regulation to boost the UK’s position in the world, marking her out as a prominent advocate of free market policies on the Tory benches.
During a BBC leadership debate, she was challenged about a comment in Britannia Unchained, describing British workers as “among the worst idlers in the world”. She insisted she had not written it.
In 2012, just over two years after becoming an MP, she entered government as an education minister and in 2014 was promoted to environment secretary.
At the 2014 Conservative conference, she made a speech in which she said, in an impassioned voice: “We import two-thirds of our cheese. That. Is. A. Disgrace.”
The speech was little noticed at the time, but it has taken on a life of its own on social media, attracting much mockery and becoming widely shared.
Two years later came arguably the biggest political event in a generation – the EU referendum.
Ms Truss campaigned for Remain, writing in the Sun newspaper that Brexit would be “a triple tragedy – more rules, more forms and more delays when selling to the EU”.
However, after her side lost, she changed her mind, arguing that Brexit provided an opportunity to “shake up the way things work”.
Under Theresa May’s premiership, she became the first female Lord Chancellor and justice secretary, but she had several high-profile clashes with the judiciary.
Her initial failure to defend judges after they were branded “enemies of the people” by the Daily Mail, when they ruled Parliament had to be given a vote on triggering Brexit, upset the legal establishment.
She later issued a statement supporting the judges, but she was criticised by Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd as “completely and absolutely wrong” for not speaking out sooner.
After 11 months as justice secretary, she was demoted to chief secretary to the Treasury.
When Boris Johnson became prime minister in 2019, Ms Truss was moved to international trade secretary – a job which meant meeting global political and business leaders to promote UK PLC.
In 2021, aged 46, she moved to one of the most senior jobs in government, taking over from Dominic Raab as foreign secretary.
In this role she has sought to solve the knotty problem of the Northern Ireland Protocol, by scrapping parts of a post-Brexit EU-UK deal – a move the EU fiercely criticised.
She secured the release of two British-Iranian nationals who had both been arrested and detained in Iran.
And when Russia invaded Ukraine in February she took a hard line, insisting all of Vladimir Putin’s forces should be driven from the country.
But she faced criticism for backing people from the UK who wanted to fight in Ukraine.
Her decision to pose for photographs in a tank while visiting British troops in Estonia, was seen as an attempt to emulate Margaret Thatcher, who had famously been pictured aboard a Challenger tank in 1986. It also fuelled speculation that she was on leadership manoeuvres.
Claims she was deliberately trying to channel Thatcher grew even louder when she posed for a photograph in a white pussy bow collar of the kind favoured by the Iron Lady.
But she has always dismissed such criticism, telling GB News: “It is quite frustrating that female politicians always get compared to Margaret Thatcher while male politicians don’t get compared to Ted Heath.”
Ms Truss’s campaign for the party leadership was not free of controversy.
Pressed on how she would tackle the cost-of-living crisis, she said she would focus her efforts on “lowering the tax burden, not giving out handouts”.
She has been forced to scrap a plan to link public sector pay to regional living costs by a backlash from senior Tories who said it would mean lower pay for millions of workers outside London.
And she called Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon an “attention seeker”, adding it was best to “ignore her”.
She also got into a spat with French President Emmanuel Macron, who accused her of “playing to the gallery” at a leadership hustings. Asked if Mr Macron was a “friend or foe”, she had said the jury was still out.
But it was domestic issues, or rather one domestic issue, that dominated the sometimes fractious leadership contest with Rishi Sunak.
Ms Truss’s response to the cost-of-living crisis was always likely to define her premiership. And ultimately her time in Downing Street began to rapidly unravel following her disastrous “mini-budget”.
Liz Truss now becomes the shortest-serving prime minister in UK history.
END OF BBC ARTICLE
”On September 23, Truss looked on as Kwasi Kwarteng—her chancellor of the Exchequer, political soulmate, and personal friend—put forward a “mini budget” that would cut taxes on top earners, remove a cap on bankers’ bonuses, and cancel a planned corporate-tax hike. ”
”The left-wing opposition hated it—tax cuts for millionaires as Middle Britain struggled with high energy bills, rampant inflation, and rising mortgage costs—but so did the financial markets.”
THE PRIME MINISTER WHO DID EVERYTHING WRONG
18 OCTOBER 2022
In March 1841, William Henry Harrison became the ninth president of the United States. He gave the longest inaugural speech in history—one hour and 45 minutes—developed a cold, and then, after a mere 32 days in charge, succumbed to a mixture of pneumonia and 19th-century medicine.
According to a persistent, if apocryphal, rumor, Harrison caught that fatal chill at his inauguration. Here in Britain, Liz Truss’s prime ministership was dealt a similarly mortal blow by her own government’s first set-piece event—the launch of an economic plan designed to turn Britain into a low-tax libertarian paradise. Just six weeks into her tenure, her ambitions have shuffled off this mortal coil, rung down the curtain, and joined the choir invisible. They are deceased. They have ceased to be. Truss ran for prime minister on a promise to unleash growth. Instead, she unleashed market turmoil, a fall in the pound, and a precipitous drop in her party’s poll numbers. Even now, she says she wants to lead her party into the next election, as if she had not just immolated her credibility; her longstanding ideological commitment to Britannia Unchained has proved entirely resistant to facts and changing circumstances.
On September 23, Truss looked on as Kwasi Kwarteng—her chancellor of the Exchequer, political soulmate, and personal friend—put forward a “mini budget” that would cut taxes on top earners, remove a cap on bankers’ bonuses, and cancel a planned corporate-tax hike. This was the “biggest package in generations,” he said. Dust off the Laffer curve, silence the “doomsters” worried about where the money would come from, and luxuriate in what even a sympathetic commentator described as a “Reaganite show of fiscal incontinence and Thatcherite derring-do.”
The left-wing opposition hated it—tax cuts for millionaires as Middle Britain struggled with high energy bills, rampant inflation, and rising mortgage costs—but so did the financial markets. Government bonds fell sharply, which left pension funds struggling to stay solvent. Five days later, the Bank of England was forced to step in and stabilize the British economy. A right-wing chancellor had implemented right-wing economic dogma, and the free market swooned—in horror.
At the start of the month, as Truss’s Conservative Party gathered for its annual conference, pressure from her own colleagues led the prime minister to junk her most toxic policy, the tax cut for the rich. She papered over the humiliation with a tone-deaf speech attacking anyone who criticized her as part of the “anti-growth coalition.” These people, she claimed, “prefer talking on Twitter to taking tough decisions … From broadcast to podcast, they peddle the same old answers. It’s always more taxes, more regulation, and more meddling.”
But even this gratuitous dollop of culture-war blather couldn’t restore calm to the markets or the restive ruling party. Everyone could see that Truss and Kwarteng’s authority was shot to pieces. The Economist pointed out that, once the official mourning period for Elizabeth II was taken into account, Truss “had seven days in control. That is roughly the shelf-life of a lettuce.” A tabloid newspaper promptly set up a livestream of a decaying vegetable, to see which lasted longer. The lettuce now looks sad and wilted. So does the prime minister.
Desperate to remain in power, Truss fired Kwarteng on Friday—even though she had signed off on his disastrous proposals. Yesterday, Kwarteng’s replacement, Jeremy Hunt, went on television and unloaded clip after clip into Truss’s cherished economic policies. In three days (his time in the job) and five and a half minutes (the length of his televised statement), Hunt unwound the entire basis of Truss’s leadership so comprehensively that the past month might as well have never happened. It was a bloodbath: “The most important objective for our country right now is stability,” he said, reversing almost all the tax cuts announced in the mini budget. (The subsidy for domestic energy bills was also drastically reduced in scope: This distinctly big-state policy, forced on the government by high wholesale gas prices, was—and still is—extremely costly, and a more cautious leader might have restrained their other plans as a result. Not Liz Truss, though, who had pledged to “hit the ground running.”)
The speed and savagery of Truss’s collapse has been astonishing—particularly because her predecessor, Boris Johnson, won a general election with an impressive majority of 80 seats just three years ago. Back then, the Conservatives looked like an all-conquering horde, even after a decade in power and the protracted agony of the Brexit negotiations.
So what’s gone wrong? Everything. Since taking office, she has made a series of bad calls. She appointed a cabinet of fellow hard-liners, rather than drawing on the breadth of her party. She fired the most senior civil servant at the treasury, because he was too fond of fiscal orthodoxy. She dismissed the strategist who masterminded the 2019 election victory. Her chief of staff has spent his entire tenure embroiled in scandal after it was revealed he was being paid by his old lobbying firm, rather than taking a government salary. She didn’t prepare the country for the top-rate tax cut. Apparently, she was sure that the right-wing media’s adoration would be enough to convince the rest of Britain that millionaires were the group that most needed a break right now.
Even worse, all the way through, Truss has been barely visible, as if her actions speak for themselves. Which, sadly, they have. In the past few days, the Conservatives’ deteriorating polls have indicated that they would not simply lose the next election; they would no longer be the second largest party in Parliament. Unless their fortunes undergo a complete reversal, the Conservatives—who have dominated the postwar period and consider themselves the “natural party of government” in Britain—would suffer a wipeout on the scale of the Canadian center-right in 1993.
Under these circumstances, possible successors have begun to present themselves. Hunt, the new chancellor, has unsuccessfully run twice for the leadership and would love another chance. Penny Mordaunt, whom Truss defeated over the summer, denied yesterday that the prime minister was hiding “under a desk” instead of facing the House of Commons. In doing so, Mordaunt accidentally-on-purpose repeated the accusation. (The headlines and push alerts wrote themselves.) Rishi Sunak, another defeated rival, is also circling—ready to point out that his unheeded warnings about Truss’s economic policies have proved to be prescient. Boris Johnson’s allies are even suggesting that Britain take him back, Berlusconi-style, for another try.
Earlier this year, I wrote that Truss was walking into an economic hurricane. For some reason, she decided the best response to this was to toss fistfuls of cash into the air in the form of unfunded tax cuts. She has failed because she won the leadership by telling her party’s most ardent activists what they wanted to hear. She has failed because she is a born-again Brexiteer, and had already swallowed the lie that reality can be bent to ideology. She has failed because, in a prime-ministerial system, leaders can be expected to implement even their most irresponsible promises—so the link between action and consequence is brutally obvious.
Liz Truss has been cosplaying as Margaret Thatcher without noticing that the Britain of 2022 looks nothing like the Britain of 1979, in either its demographics or its economic problems. Her time as prime minister is a parable of being careful what you wish for: True Trussonomics—Brexit-loving, libertarian, trickle-down—has certainly been tried. Unfortunately, it went about as well as William Henry Harrison’s inaugural address.
END OF THE ARTICLE
”Embattled British Prime Minister Liz Truss sacked her Treasury chief and reversed course on a major part of her tax-cutting economic plan Friday as she struggled to hang on to her job after weeks of turmoil on financial markets. But the market response was muted and the political reaction to what many saw as panicked moves left Truss’ credibility in tatters after only six weeks in office.”
UK’S TRUSS DROPS TAX CUTS, AXES TREASURY CHIEF AMID TURMOIL
14 OCTOBER 2022
LONDON (AP) — Embattled British Prime Minister Liz Truss sacked her Treasury chief and reversed course on a major part of her tax-cutting economic plan Friday as she struggled to hang on to her job after weeks of turmoil on financial markets. But the market response was muted and the political reaction to what many saw as panicked moves left Truss’ credibility in tatters after only six weeks in office.
At a hastily arranged news conference, Truss said she was acting to “reassure the markets of our fiscal discipline” by ditching her pledge to scrap a planned increase in corporation tax. Earlier, she fired her close friend Kwasi Kwarteng as head of the Treasury and replaced him with Jeremy Hunt, a long-time lawmaker who has served three previous stints as a Cabinet minister.
Truss is trying to restore confidence and rebuild her credibility with international investors and members of her own party after the “mini-budget” she and Kwarteng unveiled three weeks ago sparked political and economic turmoil.
The government’s Sept. 23 announcement that it planned to cut taxes by 45 billion pounds ($50 billion) without detailing how it would pay for them or offering independent analysis about the impact on public finances raised concerns that government borrowing could rise to unsustainable levels.
That sent the pound plunging to a record low against the dollar and forced the Bank of England to step in to prevent a wider economic crisis.
Truss has now canceled about 20 billion pounds of the originally planned tax cuts.
But her brief, downbeat news conference is unlikely to have reassured Truss’ Conservative Party that she is in control.
“I think she’s just confirmed that she’s not the right person for the job,” said Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London. “I don’t think it communicated the kind of confidence the country needs right now.”
Despite backtracking on a major part of her program, Truss clung to the idea that her policies were what the country needs to spur economic growth. She also avoided repeated questions about why she should remain in office when she and Kwarteng were equally responsible for the government’s economic plan and the fallout it triggered.
“I am absolutely determined to see through what I have promised,” Truss said.
The initial response from investors suggested Truss’ moves may not be enough to calm financial markets.
Yields on 10-year government bonds rose immediately after her news conference, indicating investors are still concerned about government debt. The pound fell 1.2% against the U.S. dollar.
The next big test for Truss will come Monday when trading resumes on financial markets. The Bank of England on Friday ended its emergency intervention to stabilize long-term bond prices and protect pensions funds.
“Whether or not she remains prime minister, her whole agenda now, her ability to pursue her political project, if you like, is really out of her hands,” said Jill Rutter, a senior fellow at the Institute for Government, a London-based think tank.
Her fate is now in the hands of the markets.”
Truss is also facing pressure from across the political spectrum.
The opposition Liberal Democrats called for an emergency weekend session of the House of Commons for Hunt to provide more detail on the government’s economic plan. Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon called for an early general election. And the BBC reported that a group of senior Conservative lawmakers are planning to call for Truss’ resignation next week.
Truss’ future is in doubt less than six weeks after she took office promising to re-energize the British economy and put the nation on a path to “long-term success.”
A small-state, low-tax Conservative who patterns herself after 1980s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Truss argued that cutting taxes, reducing red tape and courting investment would spur economic growth and generate more revenue to pay for public services.
But the Sept. 23 tax cut plan only provided half of the equation. Without an independent analysis of her full economic program, the added growth it will produce and the additional tax revenue likely to be created, she was asking investors and voters to trust that the sums would in the end add up.
Truss said Friday that Hunt would unveil the full economic plan on Oct. 31, along with analysis from the independent Office for Budget Responsibility.
James Athey, investment director at the fund manager abrdn, described Truss’ move as a “U-turn on its decision not to U-turn on its profligate tax-cutting policies.″ And, Britain still faces myriad problems, he said.
“Inflation is at multi-decade highs, government borrowing is huge, as is the current account deficit. The housing market is likely to suffer a hammer blow from the jump in mortgage rates and the war in Ukraine rumbles on,” he said.
“We may well be through the worst of the volatility, but I fear that the U.K. is nowhere near out of the woods.”
Conservative lawmakers are agonizing over whether to try to oust their second leader this year. Truss was elected last month to replace Boris Johnson, who was forced out in July.
The weeks of financial turmoil has helped the opposition Labour Party take a commanding lead in opinion polls. A national election does not have to be held until 2024, but many Conservatives fear the party is running out of time to close the gap.
Fractious Conservative lawmakers are scrambling to find a unity candidate who could replace Truss, with speculation centering on Hunt and two of the rivals who lost to Truss in the summer leadership contest: Rishi Sunak and Penny Mordaunt.
IMF URGES KWARTENG AND TRUSS TO
RETHINK TAX CUTS IN RARE INTERVENTION
28 SEPTEMBER 2022
The International Monetary Fund has hit out at Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng’s tax cuts for the rich, warning that “large and untargeted fiscal packages” would probably deepen inequality in Britain.
In a rare intervention, the IMF took aim at the British government after the UK chancellor’s mini-Budget on Friday caused sterling and bonds to plummet and gilt yields to soar, reflecting the cost of borrowing.
The market turmoil started after investors were spooked by Mr Kwarteng’s plan to offer tax cuts to the richest while increasing state expenditure dramatically.
“We are closely monitoring recent economic developments in the UK and are engaged with the authorities,” an IMF spokesperson said.
“Given elevated inflation pressures in many countries, including the UK, we do not recommend large and untargeted fiscal packages at this juncture, as it is important that fiscal policy does not work at cross purposes to monetary policy,” they added.
The global lender predicted that the UK’s new measures would “likely increase inequality” rather than achieving the government’s aim of creating a prosperous Britain.
It urged the British chancellor to change tack when he gives a statement on 23 November, a promise he made earlier this week in a bid to calm the markets.
“The 23 November budget will present an early opportunity for the UK government to consider ways to provide support that is more targeted and reevaluate the tax measures, especially those that benefit high-income earners,” the IMF said.
Commentators noted that the IMF’s wording closely resembled warnings it typically gives to emerging economies in the throes of a current account crisis. It comes after Larry Summers, a former US treasury secretary, accused Britain of “behaving a bit like an emerging market turning itself into a submerging market”.
Labour said the IMF’s statement showed the dangers of Ms Truss’s and Mr Kwarteng’s economic policies.
Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said: “This statement from the IMF shows the seriousness of the situation.
“Families will be concerned about what market movements in recent days mean for them.
“The government must urgently lay out how it will fix the problems it created through its reckless decisions to waste money in an untargeted cut in the top rate of tax.
“Waiting until November is not an option. The government must urgently review the plans made in their fiscal statement last week.
“First the Bank of England had to step in to reassure markets. Now, this statement from the IMF should set alarm bells ringing in government and make it clear that they need to act now.”
In response to the IMF’s rebuke, a UK Treasury spokesperson said: “We have acted at speed to protect households and businesses through this winter and the next, following the unprecedented energy price rise caused by [Vladimir] Putin’s illegal actions in Ukraine.”
They insisted ministers were “focused on growing the economy to raise living standards for everyone”, and promised that the chancellor would set out measures in November to ensure that debt falls as a share of GPD “in the medium term”.
Mr Kwarteng continues to deny that he has committed “economic vandalism” as his opponents have alleged. Instead, he told investors on Tuesday that he would boost growth through deregulation.
“We are confident in our long-term strategy to drive economic growth through tax cuts and supply-side reform,” he said.
It is not just opposition parties that have condemned the new government’s actions. Many backbench Tory MPs are said to be deeply concerned about the sliding of the pound, which has brought Labour its biggest lead over the Conservatives for two decades.
Mel Stride, a Sunak ally who chairs the Commons Treasury Committee, said his party’s strategy put it “in jeopardy”.
Meanwhile, Sir Charlie Bean, a former deputy governor of the Bank of England, told Sky News that the Bank should hike interest rates immediately to reassure the markets.
“The thing about credulity is when you lose it, it can be quite difficult to get it back,” he said. “It takes time.”
THE LAST DAYS OF TRUSS WERE AN UTTER SHAMBLES.
THEN THE REAL CHAOS BEGAN
The departure of Britain’s shortest serving prime minister and a possible comeback by her predecessor has created further divisions and infighting in the chaotic Conservative party
The plunging pound had not done it. The wholesale dumping of a budget did not do it. A complete collapse in party discipline that led to MPs cursing colleagues and others sobbing did not do it. Even the resignation of Liz Truss, making her Britain’s shortest serving prime minister by some distance, was not enough.
Yet as allies of Boris Johnson immediately let it be known that he was planning to stand for party leader again, just minutes after Truss had retreated into Downing Street at the end of her humiliating resignation speech, a Tory MP with long-lasting doubts about the party’s direction said they were now finally contemplating their future within it.
“If Boris wins, all bets are off,” they said. “Defections, people resigning the whip. It’s all on the table now. I’m starting to realise that I have so little in common with a large number of colleagues.”
In the crisis-ridden psychodrama that British politics has become, perhaps the prospect of Johnson’s return should have been the obvious next step after Truss’s devastating demise.
But several MPs said that it would simply lead to splits and the collapse of the government and the Conservative party – and could even be the one thing that could precipitate a general election that would be, in all likelihood, devastating for the Tories.
According to one cabinet member, the lobbying campaign for Johnson was “very quick and very aggressive”. Senior figures were contacted with the view of having as many public supporters as possible early on in the race, to convince waverers that it was now plausible to think the unthinkable and bring back a leader ditched just months earlier for being incapable of avoiding scandal and crises.
Every tactic was used to get an early bump in support that would create a sense of momentum. “Possibles” were told that Johnson was prepared to bring back key figures into a cabinet such as old foes Michael Gove and leadership rival Rishi Sunak.
Things would be different, with new staff and a new culture in No 10. The campaign was also from the ground up. Johnson already had a built-in advantage among members because of the drive that had been spearheaded by Tory donor Peter Cruddas since Johnson’s removal in the summer.
Cruddas had mounted a campaign to have Johnson reinstated or allowed to run again – and with it developed a network of passionate members fighting for the former prime minister.
Some MPs have reported that has led to lobbying at a local level for them to “back Boris”. Reports have also emerged that deselection is being dangled should they fail to comply.
The early shock and awe attempt was an essential element of making the Johnson saga once again the central question to the future of the Conservative party and the country.
By Friday morning, it was serving its purpose. Yet such has been the dizzying ebb and flow of the race to replace Truss that by the time Johnson was boarding a flight home from the Dominican Republic – with the boos from some passengers an early reminder of the divisions he will bring with him – there were concerns among his supporters that the momentum was ebbing.
By Friday afternoon, he was stuck on the halfway line, with about 50 MP backers. Allies were telling him it was the wrong time to attempt a comeback. Sources familiar with the Commons privileges committee into whether he misled MPs over Partygate were saying the investigation could well “finish him off”.
By the time his delayed flight hit the Gatwick tarmac shortly after 10am on Saturday morning, Johnson was fighting to keep alive the dream of a swift and jaw-dropping return.
Key now was the support of the right of the party, who had struggled to find a candidate, with Suella Braverman, whose shock departure from the cabinet earlier in the week is now a mere footnote in Britain’s political chaos, unable to secure enough supporters. The backing of former home secretary Priti Patel on Saturday morning was enough to keep his supporters going.
But with Johnson scrambling, Sunak – planning his campaign from his rural North Yorkshire constituency – was already sure he had the support of the 100 MPs needed to enter the race.
The third figure in the running, Penny Mordaunt, was also struggling. Her backers knew, however, that her fate was tied up with Johnson’s – she had the capacity to keep him out of the race with enough supporters. Yet should Johnson drop out, she could inherit the anti-Sunak mantle that had helped deliver victory for Truss just weeks earlier. And all the while, the Tory melodrama continued to drive the fate of the country.
With the breathless speed with which the race to find a new Tory leader has unfolded, it can be easy to forget that halfway through the week, Britain lost its latest prime minister in record time. The fall of Truss came so fast that even 24 hours before her robotic resignation statement on Thursday, many MPs and insiders had been working on the basis that they had a couple of weeks left to ensure that the succession could be sorted out. While Truss and her team had been dreading prime minister’s questions, she managed to get through without an implosion. It was not a good outing – she had undermined chancellor Jeremy Hunt by committing to protect the pensions triple lock and bizarrely quoted Peter Mandelson by saying she was “a fighter, not a quitter” (Mandelson twice had to resign from the government). However, given how low expectations had fallen, the session had not caused a terminal problem.
As late as Wednesday afternoon, you could still find MPs who thought Truss was finished, but could even last as long as May’s local elections. Others were talking about Christmas, while the hawkish were aiming to get the medium-term fiscal plan out of the way on 31 October.
Ministers were shocked by the resignation of Braverman, with one cabinet source instantly pointing to it as “the beginning of the end”. The appointment of Grant Shapps in her place, a man who had been logging sentiment against the prime minister days earlier, was a symbol that Truss was no longer in charge of cabinet appointments, let alone the government. Yet still there were some saying she could be kept in place until a more convenient time.
It was, in the end, the botched handling of a Labour vote on fracking that pushed many MPs over the edge. Labour officials could scarcely believe their luck when a message emerged from the Tory deputy whip Craig Whittaker that their motion was being treated as a confidence vote in the government.
Throughout the day, Tory MPs facing huge local pressure over fracking began making it clear they would happily lose the party whip rather than back the government on the issue.
The peak of the chaos is hard to fathom, but it was probably witnessed in the House of Commons voting lobbies at about 7pm on Wednesday. As the fracking debate came to an end and climate minister Graham Stuart said that the vote was no longer being regarded as a confidence motion, chief whip Wendy Morton was seen leaving. Moments later, with MPs confused over what on earth they were meant to be doing, there were confrontations and reports of skirmishes. When one MP asked Morton how they were meant to vote, several witnesses said she replied: “I don’t know. I’m no longer the chief whip.”
An MP who saw the exchange said: “It was total chaos.” A former cabinet minister watching the scene said: “They can’t liaise with ministers – they can’t run things. This has to end. The party is being humiliated but, more importantly, so is the country.”
Back in the lobbies, some Tory MPs were brought to tears, being consoled by Labour MPs. Stuart was informed his closing speech had “finished off” the chief whip. Meanwhile, Whittaker, who had the task of getting MPs into line, was heard making the outburst: “I am fucking furious and I don’t give a fuck any more.” The phrase was reported around the world as a sign of the apparent state of the British government.
As the pressure increased, other MPs said Truss was seen racing after Morton, losing her security detail in the process. It culminated in a 45-minute meeting in the Tory whips’ office. Eventually, the two whips had unresigned, with a 1.30am briefing from Downing Street that MPs would be disciplined for failing to back the government in the vote. As one veteran from the Brexit wars era noted: “They’re making Theresa May look like Winston fucking Churchill.”
In the middle of it all, there was also a hidden war going on among Downing Street officials, seemingly without Truss being able to control it. A blame game was taking place over a briefing against Sajid Javid the previous weekend, with a quote from a Downing Street source dismissing the idea that Javid had been offered the job as chancellor, adding that the prime minister thought he was “shit”.
On Sunday, Truss had repeatedly tried to contact Javid to apologise for the briefing. When the pair finally spoke, Javid is said to have insisted that the perpetrator was fired. Truss said that she could not do that. However, on Wednesday, as prime minister’s questions began and Javid was scheduled to ask a hostile question about the briefing and destabilise Truss yet further, it was announced that senior aide Jason Stein had been suspended over the issue and was being investigated.
This announcement was made, said insiders, without Truss’s knowledge, by another Downing Street aide. Discipline had not only been lost within the party. It had disintegrated in the rooms surrounding Truss’s Downing Street office. Stein was reinstated later in the week.
While a botched party management might seem an obscure reason to ditch a prime minister, to many wavering MPs it was a sign that Truss’s status as the least powerful figure in her own government had made the whole enterprise of governing unsustainable.
Many had previously disregarded the idea of sending a letter of no confidence to Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee. In theory, Truss was protected from a confidence vote in her leadership for a year. But now, many decided Brady needed the ammunition of letters in his inbox.
This mayhem all unfolded after Hunt had already held a televised address on Monday effectively killing off the mini-budget that had triggered Britain’s economic turmoil – and with it, he finished off Truss’s leadership pitch and any reason she had to continue.
Later that day, some MPs thought Truss had decided to resign when Commons leader Mordaunt filled in for her at the dispatch box. In fact, Mordaunt would only ensure Truss had no way back by insisting the prime minister was “not under a desk”. When Truss did appear alongside Hunt later, she had a fixed, trance-like stare.
Part of the unfathomable absurdity that has unfolded since Truss’s resignation is the way in which the next prime minister will be decided. While there was no agreement on who should take over, the majority of Tory MPs had been in agreement since their party conference that any process to replace Truss must not be put to the members. In the atmosphere of crisis and with the markets watching, they needed someone who could command the support of most MPs.
Yet somehow, to the consternation of many MPs, a process emerged that would see the two final candidates put to a vote of members. The system appears to have developed as a compromise between those wanting a Johnson return and those opposed to it. Many MPs had pressured Brady to ensure that any candidate would need a high threshold of 100 MP backers to make it into the race. This was the “stop Boris” measure.
Meanwhile, MPs point to Conservative party chairman Jake Berry, one of the earliest Johnson backers from the 2016 leadership contest, as the person who pushed for a members’ vote – the former prime minister retains some star billing with the grassroots. The prospect that the contest could once again be decided by party members has led many MPs to conclude the rules now need changing. “The members’ vote doesn’t work,” one said. “It was brought in to include members, but it just lets a load of loons in.” Even if Sunak has a huge lead over Johnson after a final vote of MPs, members would still have the power to foist Johnson upon them.
With the race set up under these rules, Johnson’s team knew the key was somehow reaching the 100 MP threshold. They knew they had to move early and began pressing MPs immediately, including cabinet ministers who might be won over and bring some people with them. Johnson backers were making clear that they understood it would have to be a “very different sort of government”. Johnson himself is said to have been phoning colleagues from his Caribbean holiday – an irony not lost on incredulous MPs opposed to his return.
By Friday, MPs who just months earlier had set out detailed reasons for wanting Johnson out were among those demanding his return.
Stoke-on-Trent North MP Jonathan Gullis, a passionate Johnson backer who then joined the mass resignations three months ago, declared once again that he was supporting him. In his July resignation letter, he said the party had been “more focused on dealing with our reputational damage rather than delivering for the people of this country”.
Sleaford and North Hykeham MP Caroline Johnson also backed Johnson. She had previously resigned as vice chair of the Conservative party, citing the “cumulative effect” of Johnson’s “errors of judgment and domestic actions”.
One senior official from the Johnson years was among those to despair of the spectacle. “They’re clowns,” they said. “And can’t complain if the same shit happens again.”
Meanwhile, some MPs were heading in the other direction. One “red wall” MP who had backed Johnson said his re-emergence was madness, adding: “This should be all about good government and getting barnacles off the boat. We just booted him out because of the shit he caused. Do we seriously expect good governance from him?”
The absurdity of the situation, several Tory MPs warned, was that the return of Johnson is the one thing that could precipitate a general election – the least favoured option by Conservatives, given the party’s poll ratings. One said an election would be accompanied by “the end of the Conservative party”.
As amazing as it sounds, there were no active conversations between Labour and potential Tory defectors by the time Truss resigned. Yet this weekend, some Tories are considering their positions in the party for the first time, saying they could not tolerate life with Johnson as their leader once again. Some are still simply trying to digest exactly what is happening.
“I feel like I’ve been walking around for the last three months on crazy pills,” said one MP. “Lately, I’ve just been going up to people shouting: ‘Do something!’ Our standing isn’t holed below the waterline – it’s below the Mariana Trench. There are no metaphors left to describe what is going on.”
By Saturday morning, with the reality of the difficulties Johnson would face in office sinking in, some long-term backers were urging him not to stand. His former editor Charles Moore wrote that Johnson should “sit this one out”.
Another crucial moment will come on Monday, when the pro-Brexit European Research Group of MPs meets to discuss the leadership. Winning the support of the right is now essential for Johnson, but on its own it is unlikely to get him over the 100 MP threshold.
Meanwhile, Downing Street has become a ghostly building. It is still filled with staff, but the bad blood and the humiliation of Truss’s downfall is felt keenly by all who work there. This weekend, they are preparing their goodbyes and buying farewell gifts. They are preparing for one final prime minister’s questions, should Truss be required to complete that one last time on Wednesday. But one senior Downing Street figure described the atmosphere as “complete despair”.
Some of the staff are now contemplating the return of the man who they had been serving under just months earlier. Some could yet be called to give testimony against him in the privileges committee investigation.
The question they are now pondering is whether they will be giving evidence against their old boss, or their current one.