LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Liz Truss clung to power by a thread on Thursday, after a top cabinet minister quit her government amid a barrage of criticism and a vote in the House of Commons fell. descended into chaos and acrimony.
A botched economic plan unveiled by the government last month sparked financial turmoil and a political crisis that saw the replacement of Truss’ treasury chief, multiple policy reversals and a breakdown in discipline within the ruling Conservative Party.
Many Tories say Truss must step down – but she remained defiant, saying she is ‘a fighter not a quitter’.
Conservative lawmaker Simon Hoare said the government was in disarray.
“Nobody has a road map. It’s a kind of everyday hand-to-hand combat,” he told the BBC on Thursday. He said Truss had “about 12 hours” to turn things around.
The newspapers that usually support the Conservatives were vitriolic. An editorial in the Daily Mail headlined: “Wheels have come off Tory clown car”.
International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan, sent on the air Thursday morning to defend the government, insisted the administration was bringing “stability”. But she was unable to guarantee that Truss would lead the party in the next election.
“At the moment, I think it is,” she said.
With opinion polls giving Labor a large and growing lead, many Tories now believe their only hope of avoiding electoral oblivion is to replace Truss. But they are divided on how to get rid of her and there is no favorite to succeed her yet.
A national election is not due until 2024, and under Conservative Party rules, Truss is technically immune from a leadership challenge for a year. The rules can be changed if enough lawmakers want it. There is feverish speculation about how many lawmakers have already submitted letters calling for a vote of no confidence.
In a blow, Interior Minister Suella Braverman resigned on Wednesday after breaking the rules by sending an official document from her personal email account. She used her resignation letter to castigate Truss, saying she had “concerns about the direction of this government.”
“The business of government is about people accepting responsibility for their mistakes,” she said in a thinly veiled dig at Truss.
Braverman was replaced as home secretary, minister responsible for immigration and law and order, by former cabinet minister Grant Shapps. He is a prominent supporter of Rishi Sunak, the former Treasury chief defeated by Truss in the final round of the Tory leadership race.
Truss faced more unrest in Parliament on Wednesday night during a vote on fracking for shale gas – a practice Truss wants to resume despite opposition from many Tories.
With a large Conservative majority in parliament, an opposition call for a ban on fracking was easily defeated, but some lawmakers were furious that Conservative Party whips said the vote would be treated as a confidence motion, meaning that the government would fall if the motion passed.
There have been angry scenes in the House of Commons, with party whips accused of using heavy-handed tactics to win votes. Labor lawmaker Chris Bryant said he “saw members being physically abused…and bullied”. Tory officials denied there had been any abuse.
Rumors swirled that Tory Chief Whip Wendy Morton, who is responsible for party discipline, and her deputy had quit. Hours later, Truss’ office said the two remained at their posts.
The dramatic developments came days after Truss sacked its Treasury chief Kwasi Kwarteng on Friday after the economic package the pair unveiled on September 23 spooked financial markets and sparked an economic and political crisis.
The plan’s 45 billion pounds ($50 billion) of unfunded tax cuts have caused turbulence in financial markets, hammering the value of the pound and increasing the cost of borrowing for the British government. 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 nearly all of Truss’ tax cuts, along with his flagship energy policy and pledge not to cut government spending. He said the government will need to save billions of pounds and there are “many tough decisions” to make before presenting a medium-term budget plan on October 31.
Addressing lawmakers for the first time since the U-turn, Truss apologized on Wednesday and admitted she had made mistakes during her six weeks in office, but insisted that by changing heading, she had “taken her responsibilities and made the right decisions in the interest of the economic stability of the country.
Opposition politicians shouted “Resign!” as she spoke in the House of Commons.
But she insisted: “I am a fighter and not a quitter”.
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