Liz Truss quits after six weeks as UK Prime Minister

  • Truss says he will go next week
  • Sunak and Mordant were seen as contenders for the top job
  • Boris Johnson could return
  • Truss was Britain’s shortest-serving Prime Minister

LONDON, Oct 20 (Reuters) – Liz Truss stepped down on Thursday after the shortest, most tumultuous tenure of any British prime minister, as her economic plan shattered the country’s reputation for financial stability and left many poor.

The Conservative Party, which holds a large majority in parliament and will not need to hold 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 race could pit former finance minister Rishi Sunak against Benny Mordant, but could see his ministers resign en masse to unseat Boris Johnson, who was ousted as prime minister in July.

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Another unpopular prime minister’s resignation speech in Downing Street – and the start of a new leadership contest – underlines how turbulent British politics have become since the 2016 vote to leave the European Union.

Speaking outside the door of his No 10 office, Truss admitted he had lost the confidence of his party and would step down next week. As she spoke, the crowd gathered.

“So I spoke to His Majesty the King to let him know I’m resigning as leader of the Conservative Party,” said Truss, who supported her husband and his aides and loyal ministers in the notable absence.

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

Bar chart showing tenure of British Prime Ministers since 1970.

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

He promised tax cuts financed by borrowing, deregulation and a sharp shift to the right on cultural and social issues.

But within weeks he was forced to sack his finance minister and close political ally, Kwasi Kwarteng, and abandon his entire economic plan after their plans for unfunded tax cuts plunged the pound and soared British borrowing costs and mortgage rates.

Approval ratings for him and the party plummeted.

On Wednesday he lost the second of the government’s four senior ministers, who faced laughter as he tried to defend his record in parliament and saw his lawmakers sparring openly over policy, deepening a sense of confusion in Westminster.

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

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

Hunt, who has withdrawn from the leadership race, is due to deliver a new budget on October 31 that will slash spending on public services that are already showing clear signs of strain.

A senior Conservative lawmaker said Sunak and Mordant were open to keeping Hunt as their finance minister.

The next race for Downing Street

One of the most contentious issues facing the Conservatives is how they choose a new leader after the party’s 170,000 members elected Trudeau at the discretion of elected lawmakers at Westminster. After the Brexit vote factions within the party fought over the direction of the country.

In previous contests, the candidates were whittled down to two by votes from several lawmakers over several weeks before members chose a winner. Many conservative lawmakers say that cannot be allowed to happen again.

“Members can’t say, ‘We have to sort this out,'” said one lawmaker. 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 lawmakers and would automatically become prime minister if only one candidate crossed that threshold by 2pm (1300 GMT) on Monday. If there are two candidates, party members will vote online.

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

Although he has been proven right in his warnings that Truss’s fiscal plan threatened the economy, he remains deeply unpopular with some conservatives after helping to fuel the summer revolt against Johnson.

Popular former defense minister Benny Mordant is unlikely to reach 100 nominations, with hopefuls such as Interior Minister Suella Braverman, who quit on Wednesday, and Trade Minister Cemi Patenoch.

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

The face of the 2016 Brexit campaign loomed large in politics since he became Mayor of London in 2008. He led his party to a landslide election victory in 2019, but was forced out of office in July by colleagues disgusted by his behavior.

“Hope you enjoyed your holiday boss. Time to come back,” James Duttridge, a Conservative lawmaker, said on Twitter, adding “#bringbackboris”.

A poll of party members earlier this week favored Johnson’s return, but race odds put Sunak ahead of Mordant, Defense Minister Ben Wallace and Johnson.

Truss would go down in history as the shortest-serving Prime Minister, succeeding George Canning, who had held the position for 119 days when he died in 1827.

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

“He wasn’t voted for, of course, the policy decisions he made, none of the British people heard any of them,” Kelly Rodgers, 50, told Reuters outside Downing Street. “So (it’s) right and proper that she should go.”

“But equally, he’s the symbol of his party – it’s complete chaos.”

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Written by Kate Holden; Additional reporting by Muvija M, Farouq Suleiman, William James, Sachin Ravikumar, Kylie MacLellan and Reuters TV; Editing by Catherine Evans

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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