21 Oct 2022

Liz Truss resigns after six weeks as UK prime minister

5:47 am on 21 October 2022
Britain's Prime Minister Liz Truss delivers a resignation speech outside of 10 Downing Street in central London on 20 October 2022.

Britain's Prime Minister Liz Truss delivers a resignation speech outside of 10 Downing Street in central London on 20 October. Photo: AFP / Daniel Leal

Liz Truss said on Thursday she would resign as British prime minister, brought down just six weeks into the job by an economic programme that roiled financial markets, pushed up living costs for voters and enraged much of her own party.

The Conservative Party, which holds a big majority in parliament and need not call a nationwide election for another two years, will elect a new leader by 28 October.

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

Speaking outside the door of her Number 10 Downing Street office, Truss accepted that she had lost the faith of her party and said she would step down next week, becoming the shortest-serving prime minister in British history.

"I have therefore spoken to His Majesty the King to notify him that I am resigning as leader of the Conservative Party," said Truss, who was supported only by her husband with her aides and loyal ministers noticeably absent.

Truss became Britain's fourth prime minister in six years after being elected in September to lead the Conservative Party by its members, not the broader electorate, and with support from only around a third of the party's lawmakers.

She had promised tax cuts funded by borrowing, deregulation and a sharp shift to the right on cultural and social issues.

Appointed on 6 September she was forced last week to sack her finance minister and closest political ally, Kwasi Kwarteng, and abandon almost all her economic programme after their plans for vast unfunded tax cuts crashed the pound and British bonds. Approval ratings for her and the Conservative Party collapsed.

On Wednesday she lost the second of the government's four most senior ministers, faced laughter as she tried to defend her record to parliament and saw her lawmakers openly quarrel over policy, deepening the sense of chaos at Westminster.

New finance minister Jeremy Hunt is now racing to find tens of billions of pounds of spending cuts to try to reassure investors and rebuild Britain's fiscal reputation.

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

Hunt, who has ruled himself out of the leadership race, is due to deliver a new budget on 31 October.

Next race for Downing Street

The sight of yet another unpopular prime minister being driven out of office underscores just how volatile British politics has become since the 2016 vote to leave the European Union unleashed a battle for the direction of the country.

Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak attends a cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street in London on May 24, 2022. (Photo by Daniel LEAL / various sources / AFP)

Ex-finance minister Rishi Sunak was expecgted to run for leader. Photo: AFP

Among those expected to run for the role are Sunak, who remains deeply unpopular with parts of the Conservative Party after he helped to trigger the summer rebellion against Johnson.

Penny Mordaunt, a former defence minister, could also run, along with Suella Braverman, the interior minister who quit on Wednesday.

Johnson, who still faces an investigation into whether he misled parliament after he and his staff held a string of parties during Covid-19 lockdowns, may also be a candidate.

The face of the 2016 Brexit vote has loomed large over politics since he became London mayor in 2008. He led his party to a landslide election victory in 2019 but was driven out of office in July by colleagues who were disgusted by his conduct.

"I hope you enjoyed your holiday boss. Time to come back," one Conservative lawmaker, James Duddridge, said on Twitter. "Few issues at the office that need addressing. #bringbackboris".

Party members and Conservative lawmakers are expected to be given a say in the vote. A poll earlier this week showed most members wanted Johnson to return, but betting odds put Sunak as the favourite, ahead of Mordaunt, defence minister Ben Wallace and Johnson.

As for Truss, she will enter the history books as the prime minister with the shortest tenure in office, replacing George Canning, who had held the role for 119 days when he died in 1827.

The rapid demise of Truss, in just the latest bout of turmoil to hit Westminster - has prompted many Conservative lawmakers to openly despair about the state of Britain's most successful political party.

Asked if they could recover from this, one lawmaker replied: "Never in a million years."

The main opposition Labour Party - and many voters - have called for a general election.

"She's not been voted in and certainly, the policy decisions she made, none of the British people asked for any of those," 50-year-old Kelly Rodgers told Reuters outside Downing Street. "So (it's) right and proper she should go."

"But equally, she's just symbolic of her party - it's absolute chaos."

- Reuters