Liz Truss could be removed as British prime minister within “days or weeks” after a botched attempt to shore up her tottering premiership by sacking her chancellor and U-turning on one of her flagship policies, Conservative MPs believe.
xpectation in Westminster is that a group of Tory grandees will visit Ms Truss, possibly as early as next week, to inform her that crumbling support on the backbenches means “the game is up” and she should consider her position.
In dramatic scenes, Ms Truss fired her close ally Kwasi Kwarteng, installing Jeremy Hunt as chancellor in his place in a bid to calm the markets.
She then went before the TV cameras to announce she will go ahead with the six percentage-point hike in corporation tax she had previously vowed to cancel.
But her eight-minute press conference, in which she took just four questions, was greeted with dismay by Tories, with one describing it as “agony” and another “shockingly bad”.
One former minister said: “She made Theresa May look like Barack Obama. She can’t communicate. She’s just not up to it.”
Another said: “She looked like she had been dragged there like a reluctant child being forced to explain itself. There was no contrition.”
And the markets did not respond with the relief Downing Street was hoping for. Having fallen on the news of Mr Kwarteng’s dismissal, gilt yields – effectively the interest rate charged for government borrowing – rose steeply after the PM’s appearance, ending the day higher than they began.
Senior ministers said that further volatility next week, following yesterday’s closure of an emergency Bank of England bond-purchasing programme, could bring a hasty end to her premiership.
A snap poll of 1,088 voters found that more than half (52pc) thought Ms Truss was right to sack her chancellor, with 22pc saying she was wrong. But just 15pc said her decisions gave them more confidence in her premiership.
Labour leader Keir Starmer, whose party surged to a 34-point lead on 53pc to the Conservatives’ 19 in the latest poll, called for a general election. Ms Truss had driven the economy “into a wall” while “trashing our institutions”, he said.
The prime minister said she was “incredibly sorry” to lose her long-time ally and friend. But neither Ms Truss nor Mr Kwarteng made any apology for the September 23 mini-budget, which sent markets into a spin with a £45bn unfunded tax giveaway.
Ms Truss said only that parts of the package had gone “further and faster than markets were expecting”, and required change to provide reassurance of the government’s “fiscal discipline”.
Just two days after telling the House of Commons there would be no cuts to public services, the PM admitted for the first time that spending will have to be reined in to fill the black hole left in Britain’s finances by Mr Kwarteng.
One MP said Ms Truss’s removal was now regarded as “imminent” by Tory parliamentarians, who were actively discussing how to ensure that they – and not the party membership – have the final say on choosing a successor.
“Everybody is talking in the corridors and on the WhatsApp groups about how awful it is,” said another. “There are two things they are asking – how can she be removed and has she got days or weeks?” (© The Independent, London, 2022)
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