Liz Truss has thrown in the towel. At 2:30 p.m. this Thursday, Spanish peninsular time, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom appeared before the gates of Downing Street to announce her resignation after only 44 days in office. She has thus become the shortest head of government in the entire history of the United Kingdom. “I cannot fulfill the mandate for which I was elected. I have announced to the king my decision to resign,” she said. The still prime minister has agreed with the leadership of the Conservative Party that she will continue in the post until a replacement is elected over the next week, the time they have been given to find a solution to the unleashed crisis.
The Labor and Liberal Democrat opposition has rushed to call for new elections against the purpose of the Tories to elect a new prime minister. “The Conservative Party no longer has a mandate to continue to govern,” said Labor leader Keir Starmer. “British citizens deserve to have a voice in deciding the future of the country, and to be able to compare the chaos created by Tories with the plans of the opposition to get out of this mess”, he added. Scotland’s Chief Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, joined the request for early elections, considering it “a democratic imperative.”
In her month and a half in office, Truss had managed to turn most of her deputies against her—including those who backed her during last summer’s primaries; to the markets; the Bank of England and the main economic institutions of the country and practically all public opinion in the United Kingdom. Despite having reversed her historic tax cut, valued at more than 60,000 million euros, which threatened to cause an unsustainable hole in public accounts. Despite having kicked out her friend and ally, Finance Minister Kwasi Kwarteng, with intemperate boxes, to replace him with the moderate Jeremy Hunt. And despite having apologized to Conservative MPs and the British electorate. Despite all this, Truss’s days were numbered.
She had become a prime minister devoid of content, without a program to defend, incapable of effectively communicating the work of the government and completely at odds with her parliamentary group. The fiasco of Wednesday’s vote on a booby-trapped motion by the Labor opposition made matters worse. Shaking, pushing and shouting among the deputies Toriesforced to vote against their will on an issue as controversial as the fracking to show their loyalty to a government that was falling apart minute by minute.
On Wednesday, the day before his resignation, he was already going to be remembered in the United Kingdom as one of the most stormy days in his political history. “This is chaos, and most of my colleagues are fed up,” veteran Conservative MP Charles Walker told the BBC. “We have to regain control. The adults of the party, and there are still a few, must meet in a papal conclave for the next few hours and decide among themselves on a coronation,” Walker suggested, after a tragic night in the House of Commons.
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After several decades in the conservative caucus, Walker is one of those who has announced that he will not stand in the next elections, the ideal condition to freely attack Prime Minister Liz Truss and the disasters caused by his brief mandate. That is what the UK Conservative Party is all about today. Only those deputies who are part of the Government are silent, or make timid defenses of the still head of Government. The rest prepare for the worst or conspire to change leaders as soon as possible. Truss has met this Thursday morning, as confirmed by Downing Street, with Graham Brady, the deputy responsible for organizing internal motions of censure or calling new primaries. He is also the leader of the majority of the parliamentarians without portfolio, among whom the requests for the resignation of the prime minister accumulate. The meeting was joined by the president of the Conservative Party, Jake Berry, and the deputy prime minister, Thérèsse Coffey. A clear image of a Government in a clear crisis situation.
Brady has promised, at the end of his meeting with Truss, clear rules for the election of the new prime minister. The deputies will participate, and the affiliates, he has said. But given the limited time they have set for themselves to search for a replacement – and the fear of many Tories to a long and bloody battle between the bases -, everything suggests that there is something of an implicit message in his words. If the parliamentary group is able to find a consensus candidate -only one-, it will avoid any competition and, consequently, the need to consult the affiliates. The key, to understand the designed strategy, will be to check the number of guarantees from fellow deputies -predictably, very high- that will be required of any candidate who wants to present himself.
The commitment expressed by Brady indicates that there will be a new tenant in Downing Street by Friday, October 28.
At least 16 MPs had publicly expressed their desire for Truss to resign. Privately, according to some British media, there would already be more than 100 “letters of withdrawal of confidence” that have reached the mailbox of Graham Brady, the president of the 1922 Committee. It is the body that brings together the backbenchers (literally, the deputies of the rear benches). They are the majority of parliamentarians, those who do not occupy any position on the government steps, and, therefore, the freest to rebel against a leader who does not convince them. The statutes of the Conservative Party give Brady the organization of both an internal vote of no confidence against the prime minister —in the event, obviously, that it is tory— as of a new primary process.
It was Brady who met with Boris Johnson to explain the state of mind of his deputies and suggest that he throw in the towel. This Thursday afternoon he meets with the members of the leadership of the 1922 Committee, and many Tories they wanted him to be the one again to signal to Truss that the battle was over. “I had high hopes for Liz Truss’s mandate, but after what happened last night I think her position is already untenable. I have also sent my letter to Graham Brady ”, Sheryll Murray, one of the deputies who came out in defense of the prime minister when it still seemed possible that she could control the chaos created by her tax cut, wrote on Twitter.
A parliamentary group in rebellion
“Liz Truss needs to go as soon as possible. Her successor, whoever she is, must be someone capable, competent and able to communicate effectively”, Eurosceptic David Frost had written in the Daily Telegraph. Just a few days ago, he himself asked him to resist the pressures of what, according to him, was a coalition of leftists and globalists, from the daily Financial Times to the EU or the International Monetary Fund. It is the clear demonstration that Truss has been left without flanks (neither in the center, nor on the right, nor on the extreme right) to defend her. “He has 12 hours left to try to save his position,” said the veteran deputy tory Simon Hoare first thing this Thursday. Without any data, beyond that those were the approximate hours until Truss’s meeting with Brady. And yet, no one questioned that, more or less, that could be the rest of the political life that the prime minister had left.
Wednesday night’s vote was in the Downing Street playbook to use Parliament to their advantage. In 2019, the Conservative Party had promised in its electoral program that the fracking (the hydraulic fracturing technique to extract hydrocarbons from rock) it would remain banned in the UK “until science has categorically shown that it is a safe method”. Truss waged a neoliberal campaign of low taxes, deregulation and aggressive decisions to win the leadership of the party this summer. And he promised, among other things, that he would lift the ban. The energy crisis resulting from the invasion of Ukraine, he explained at the time, made it necessary to ensure the national gas supply.
The trap laid on Wednesday by the Labor opposition was also manual. They promoted an urgent motion in the House of Commons to definitively prohibit, by law, the fracking. It was a complicated dilemma for many conservative deputies, aware of the rejection that this practice of extraction provokes among their voters. The normal thing would have been that the Government had not imposed voting discipline. He knew he could defeat, however narrowly, Labour’s attempt to fish in rough waters. But Truss, desperately needing to demonstrate his authority, issued the call three-line-whip (the triple whip). In British parliamentary parlance, whip (whips) are the deputies who transmit the will of the Government in a vote, control their colleagues and ensure discipline. The triple whip It is the way of indicating that any deviation from the slogan would result in the withdrawal of the condition of conservative deputy and the expulsion of the parliamentary group. In the jargon, again, lose the whip (lose the whip).
Truss’s team conveyed to her MPs that she interpreted the ongoing vote as a “motion of confidence” in the prime minister. The ordeal was clear. That is why, when, at the end of the debate, the Secretary of State for Energy, Graham Stuart, —in a state of mental confusion similar to the one Downing Street is experiencing these days— was unable to define what exactly was being voted on, anger between the Tories. Deputy Ruth Edwards, demanded clarification, reproached the group’s leadership for forcing them to vote against their own electoral promises and told them that “they should hide out of sheer shame.”
An official investigation
The voting method of the House of Commons is so peculiar that it has created a universal jargon. The deputies are divided into two corridors, on each side of the Chamber, to express their position. For or against the legislative proposal. That is why voting is called divisionand so the exercise of trying to convince – or pressure – MPs to go down one corridor or another is known as lobbying (walk around) On Wednesday night, according to some present, the hallway acquired an unusual aggressiveness, to the point that the speaker (Speaker) of the House, Lindsay Hoyle, decided to open an investigation. Some Labor MPs say they witnessed scenes of shaking, shouting and harassment by the whip conservative about their peers.
Such was the chaos that, for a few hours, it was evident that the chief whip (the head of the parliamentary group, with ministerial rank), Wendy Morton, and her number two, Craig Whittaker, had exploded right there and announced his resignation. They felt unauthorized by a government that, after forcing them to impose strict discipline, sent a Secretary of State incapable of explaining what was happening there to debate in the Chamber. And, above all, they felt overwhelmed by the anger of their peers. Truss had to work hard to convince Morton not to leave the ship. At half past one in the morning (half past two, Spanish peninsular time), Downing Street issued a statement in which it assured that Morton -who was seen entering this Thursday, early in the morning, at the residence of the prime minister – remained in his post, that the vote should be interpreted without a doubt as a “motion of confidence” and that, in the coming days, the excuses and justifications of the 40 deputies who did not vote, or voted in favor of the Labor motion, to adopt “proportionate disciplinary measures”.
Truss’s resignation has thrown back any possible disciplinary consequence of a show that most conservatives want to bury as soon as possible in oblivion.