The U.K.'s Liz Truss hangs on by a thread as she loses another Cabinet minister
Updated October 19, 2022 at 2:18 PM ET
LONDON — Britain's still very new Prime Minister Liz Truss continues to bat away repeated questions about her own future at No. 10 Downing Street, after two senior Cabinet ministers resigned under pressure in less than a week.
In the latest blow to the government, Home Secretary Suella Braverman quit on Wednesday after using her personal email in official matters.
That followed Friday's forced resignation of Truss' No. 2, Kwasi Kwarteng, as finance minister, who had presented controversial economic plans that roiled global markets and the national currency.
The moves come as Truss faces intensifying criticism, mocking internet memes, and calls for her removal from both opposition politicians and members of her Conservative Party just six weeks after she took office. Now many Britons are wondering how long she will continue in the job.
Braverman oversaw immigration, police and other portfolios
Truss elevated Braverman in early September from attorney general to home secretary — an interior minister role that put her in charge of Britain's immigration system, police, incarceration and security services.
In her resignation statement, she acknowledged sending a document focused on migration policy from a nonofficial personal email account. "I have made a mistake," she wrote to Truss. "I accept responsibility; I resign."
But in a clear criticism of Truss, she wrote that the administration relies on ministers taking responsibility for their errors and insisted it is not "serious politics" to continue "as if everyone can't see" that the current government has made mistakes.
Truss herself had served as a Cabinet minister for more than a decade under three predecessors, and took office Sept. 6 at the end of a long leadership campaign to replace Boris Johnson, who had resigned amid a swirl of scandals centered on poor judgment.
But the vast majority of the economic vision that won her support from tens of thousands of grassroots Conservative Party members now lies in tatters.
Truss lost her first choice finance and interior ministers within a week
After firing her finance minister Kwarteng, this week she announced his replacement as Jeremy Hunt — a former leadership rival who has served in previous administrations as health secretary and foreign minister.
She then had to watch as he publicly tore down proposals she had insisted were critical to Britain's long-term economic growth prospects. They included planned cuts to the United Kingdom's basic tax rate.
Truss had already reversed course on other key parts of her economic package, including tax cuts for the wealthiest and for corporations, as well as plans to keep alcohol prices low and incentivize overseas shoppers to spend money tax-free in Britain.
Perhaps the most politically painful change of direction concerns an energy price cap that Truss promised last month to keep in place for the next two years. It was designed to protect British households from the high costs of gas and electricity required to heat and power their homes, and Truss as recently as last week taunted her political opponents for suggesting that two years was too long of a guarantee. If gas prices rose again precipitously, as they did earlier this year after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the British government would be on the hook for what might be billions of pounds in unforeseen price hikes.
Hunt said this was inadvisable, and reduced the plan's lifespan to just six months. That means by next spring, Britons may be once more at the mercy of global energy markets, at a time when inflation is expected to still be very high, and interest rates set by the Bank of England will mean mortgage costs for many have soared.
Conservatives have fallen far behind Labour in polls
That damaging long-term outlook is what has many of Truss' fellow Conservatives concerned. The party's poll numbers have fallen through the floor, with around two years before the next election. Late Monday, Truss insisted in a BBC interview that she will lead her party into that election.
But already five Conservative legislators have publicly called for her to resign, with many more criticizing and questioning her position anonymously in British media outlets. British front pages in recent days have appeared united in the narrative that she cannot remain in the role for long.
"People don't respect her, they don't trust her, and the government is now effectively being run by a chancellor who is going against the very thing the prime minister stood on," Rainbow Murray, a politics professor at Queen Mary University of London, said on NPR's Morning Edition. Murray was referring to the formal name for the finance chief — the chancellor of the Exchequer, which is the U.K.'s Treasury.
Truss has apologized for recent mistakes, she told the BBC, but insists she has now fixed them and remains wedded to her vision for the country's economic growth. Chancellor Hunt will unveil a long-term tax and spending plan at the end of this month.
She has also sought to dodge questions from her chief political antagonists, the opposition Labour Party, which currently leads the Conservatives by 28 percentage points in voter intention, according to the latest poll from YouGov.
Criticism and jokes about Truss abound
Her failure to show up at the House of Commons on Monday to answer an urgent question about firing Kwarteng drew sharp ridicule.
"Instead of leadership we have this utter vacuum," Labour leader Keir Starmer said in Parliament.
Another Labour legislator accused her of having hidden "under her desk" to avoid parliamentary scrutiny.
But it was harder to avoid Wednesday at the weekly ritual known as Prime Minister's Questions, where Truss was forced to explain her actions and reactions to political friends and foes alike.
This took place before Braverman's sudden resignation, but Truss told her opponent Starmer — and the hall of legislators — that she was "a fighter, not a quitter."
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