LONDON – British Prime Minister Liz Truss described herself as “a fighter and not a quitter” Wednesday as she faced a hostile opposition and fury from her own Conservative Party over her botched economic plan. Within hours of the defiant statement, her government was teetering on the verge of collapse.
A senior member of the government left her post with a fusillade of criticism at Truss, and a House of Commons vote descended into acrimony and accusations of bullying,
Home Secretary Suella Braverman said she resigned 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. “Pretending we haven't made mistakes, carrying on as if everyone can't see that we have made them and hoping that things will magically come right is not serious politics.”
Braverman is a popular figure on the Conservative Party’s right wing and a champion of more restrictive immigration policies who ran unsuccessfully for party leader this summer, a contest won by Truss.
Braverman was replaced as home secretary, the minister responsible for immigration and law and order, by former Cabinet minister Grant Shapps. He's a high-profile supporter of Rishi Sunak, the former Treasury chief defeated by Truss in the final round of the Conservative leadership race.
Truss faced more turmoil in Parliament Wednesday evening on a vote over fracking for shale gas — a practice that Truss wants to resume despite opposition from many Conservatives.
With a large Conservative majority in Parliament, an opposition call for a fracking ban was easily defeated by 326 votes to 230, but some lawmakers were furious that Conservative Party whips said the vote would be treated as confidence motion, meaning the government would fall if the motion passed.
There were angry scenes in the House of Commons during and after the vote, with party whips accused of using heavy-handed tactics to gain votes. Labour lawmaker Chris Bryant said he “saw members being physically manhandled ... and being bullied.”
Some lawmakers reported that that Conservative Chief Whip Wendy Morton, who is responsible for party discipline, and her deputy had resigned. But Truss' office later said both remained in their jobs.
Conservative officials denied there had been manhandling, but in the chaos Truss herself failed to vote, according to the official record. Many Tory lawmakers were left despondent by the state of their party.
Conservative lawmaker Charles Walker said it was “a shambles and a disgrace.”
“I hope that all those people that put Liz Truss in (office), I hope it was worth it,” he told the BBC. "I hope it was worth it to sit around the Cabinet table, because the damage they have done to our party is extraordinary.”
The dramatic developments came days after Truss fired her Treasury chief, Kwasi Kwarteng, on Friday after the economic package the pair unveiled Sept. 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 on financial markets, hammering the value of the pound and increasing the cost of U.K. 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, Treasury chief Jeremy Hunt, scrapped almost all of Truss’ 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 Oct. 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.
Asked by opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer, “Why is she still here?” Truss retorted: “I am a fighter and not a quitter. I have acted in the national interest to make sure that we have economic stability.”
Official figures released Wednesday showed U.K. inflation rose to 10.1% in September, returning to a 40-year high first hit in July, as the soaring cost of food squeezed household budgets. While inflation is high around the world — driven up by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its effect on energy supplies — polls show most Britons blame the government for the country’s economic pain.
With opinion polls giving the Labour Party a large and growing lead, many Conservatives now believe their only hope of avoiding electoral oblivion is to replace Truss. But she insists she is not stepping down, and legislators are divided about how to get rid of her.
A national election does not have to be held until 2024. Truss appeared to rule out calling an early election, saying Wednesday that “what is important is we work together ... to get through this winter and protect the economy.”
Under Conservative Party rules, Truss technically is safe from a leadership challenge for a year, but the rules can be changed if enough lawmakers want it. There is fevered speculation about how many lawmakers have already submitted letters calling for a no-confidence vote, and tensions rose further on Wednesday evening.
As yet, there is no front-runner to succeed her. Sunak, House of Commons leader Penny Mordaunt and popular Defense Secretary Ben Wallace all have supporters, as does Hunt, whom many see as the de facto prime minister already.
Some even favor the return of Boris Johnson, who was ousted in the summer after becoming enmeshed in ethics scandals.
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