- Truss says she’s going next week
- Sunak and Mordaunt are seen as contenders for the top job
- Boris Johnson could be back
- Truss is the shortest serving British Prime Minister
LONDON (Reuters) – Liz Truss resigned on Thursday after the shortest and most chaotic tenure of any British prime minister, after her economic program shattered the country’s reputation for financial stability and left many people poorer.
The Conservative Party, which has a large majority in Parliament and does not need to call a nationwide election for another two years, will elect a new leader by October 28 – Britain’s fifth prime minister in six years.
That competition is likely to pit former finance minister Rishi Sunak against Benny Mordaunt, but it could also see the return of Boris Johnson, who was ousted as prime minister in July when his ministers resigned en masse to force him out of office.
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The sight of another unpopular prime minister delivering his resignation speech in Downing Street – and the start of a new leadership race – underscores just how volatile British politics have been since the 2016 vote to leave the European Union.
Speaking outside her office door #10, Truss accepted that she had lost her party’s trust and would be stepping down next week. The pound rose as she spoke.
“I have spoken to His Majesty to inform him that I am resigning as the Conservative Party chairman,” said Truss, who has only been supported by her husband, aides and loyal ministers who are notably absent.
Allied leaders said they would continue to work with her successor and emphasized the importance of stability.
Truss was elected in September to lead the Conservative Party by its members, not the broader electorate, and with the support of only about a third of the party’s MPs.
She had promised borrowing-financed tax cuts, deregulation, and a sharp turn to the right on cultural and social issues.
But within weeks, it was forced to sack its finance minister and closest political ally, Kwasi Quarting, and to abandon nearly all of its economic program after their plans for massive unfunded tax cuts plunged the pound and sent British borrowing costs and mortgage rates soaring.
Acceptance ratings for her and the party collapsed.
On Wednesday she lost the second largest of the four Cabinet ministers, faced laughter as she tried to defend her record in Parliament and saw her MPs squabbling openly over politics, deepening a sense of chaos in Westminster.
New Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt is now racing to find tens of billions of pounds in savings in a bid to reassure investors and rebuild Britain’s financial reputation.
With the economy entering a recession and inflation at its highest levels in 40 years, millions of Britons are grappling with a cost-of-living crisis.
Hunt, who has excluded himself from 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 fatigue.
A senior Tory lawmaker said Sunak and Mordaunt were prepared to keep Hunt as their finance minister.
Next Race Down Street
One of the most contentious issues facing the Conservatives is how to elect a new leader, after the party’s 170,000 members chose Cos over the wishes of Westminster elected lawmakers. Groups within the party have fought over the direction of the country since the Brexit vote.
In previous contests, the number of candidates was reduced to two by a number of MPs votes over a period of weeks, before membership chose the winner. Many conservative lawmakers say this cannot be allowed to happen again.
“Members cannot have a say, we have to settle this,” said one of the MPs. Asked if the party could rebuild its reputation from this point on, he added, “It won’t happen in a million years.”
Organizers said any candidate would need the support of 100 lawmakers, and that if one candidate exceeded that limit by 2 pm (1300 GMT) on Monday, he would automatically become prime minister. If two candidates remain, party members will receive an online vote.
Among those expected to run for the position is Sunak, a former Goldman Sachs analyst who became finance minister once the COVID-19 pandemic reached Europe.
While he has proven right in his warnings that Truss’ fiscal plan threatens the economy, he remains unpopular with some Conservatives after helping spark a summer rebellion against Johnson.
Penny Mordaunt, the popular former defense secretary, could also run, along with other potential candidates such as Suella Braverman, the home secretary who resigned on Wednesday, and Commerce Secretary Kimi Badenouche unlikely to reach 100 candidates.
Johnson, who still faces an investigation into whether he misled Parliament after he and his staff held a series of parties during the COVID-19 lockdowns, may also be a candidate.
The face of the 2016 Brexit campaign has loomed large over politics since he became mayor of London in 2008. He led his party to a landslide election victory in 2019, but colleagues who were disgusted with his behavior were fired from office in July.
“Hope you enjoyed your president on vacation. Time to come back,” one Conservative lawmaker, James Dodridge, said on Twitter, adding, “#bringbackboris.”
A poll of party members earlier this week showed the most wanted for Johnson’s return, but betting odds made Sunak the favorite, ahead of Mordaunt and Defense Secretary Ben Wallace and Johnson.
Truss would enter the history books as prime minister with the shortest term, replacing George Canning, who held the position for 119 days when he died in 1827.
The opposition Labor Party – and many voters – called a general election.
“They were not voted on and certainly the policy decisions that I made, none of the Britons asked for them,” Kelly Rodgers, 50, told Reuters outside Downing Street. “So (this) is correct and appropriate you should go.”
“But equally, she’s just a symbol of her party—it’s an absolute mess.”
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Written by Kate Holton; Additional reporting by Movija M, Farooq Suleiman, William James, Sachin Ravikumar, Kylie McClellan and Reuters TV. Editing by Catherine Evans
Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.