A growing chorus of Conservative MPs are voicing concerns about Prime Minister Liz Truss and Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s leadership of Britain during the cost-of-living crisis.
Just five weeks into the new administration, many Tories who had backed the Truss-Kwarteng ticket to steer the country through what is expected to be a winter of hardship and beyond have expressed their doubts.
Johnny Mercer, who was sacked as veterans’ affairs minister by Ms Truss, suggested the prime minister is in a “politically unsurvivable” predicament. The MP for Plymouth Moor View shared a screenshot on Twitter of a message a concerned constituent had sent him about mortgage products being taken off the market after the mini-budget plunged the markets into chaos. The constituent said his son, daughter-in-law and their children face homelessness because they are no longer eligible to buy the property they have been renting for 10 years.
“Dozens of these across Plymouth,” Mr Mercer said about the message. “I want you to know that I get it, that most of us get it, and that we will do all we can to change it.”
‘Watching politics burn’
He said the situation facing families is “heart-breaking” and that the situation was unconscionable.
Firing a warning shot at Ms Truss, he said: “Politically unsurvivable. I got into politics to help people like this. Will not stand and watch it burn.” Mr Mercer said the mini-budget needs a “course correction”, saying the consequences are “not a game” for his constituents.
Former Brexit minister David Davis branded the new government’s mini-budget a “maxi-shambles” as he called for a rethink of the policies. Speaking to ITV’s Peston, he suggested Ms Truss could shore up support among the Tory ranks if she pushed back her planned tax cuts.
But despite his criticism of the administration’s approach, Mr Davis said he did not think there would be moves to replace the prime minister in the coming months because the ruling party would have "zero chance" of winning an election if it was in a "civil war".
Veteran Tory MP and former minister Ken Clarke said Ms Truss should “start the mini-budget again” rather than sack the chancellor, because he would then be seen as a scapegoat. He told TalkTV that Ms Truss should “learn the lesson: just don’t plunge into things like this any more”. He said she would be better to take such big decisions on the economy in a more calculated manner.
Kevin Hollinrake, who supported Rishi Sunak’s bid for No 10, said the Truss government should look back on the turmoil over the past few weeks and say: “I think we've got some of this wrong and these tax cuts need to be introduced over time.”
Mel Stride, a senior Tory MP who chairs the Commons Treasury Committee, told BBC Breakfast a “fundamental reset” is needed in the wake of the market turmoil over the mini-budget. “I’m hoping that it’s to engage in conversations with the PM and others and to row back on those unfunded tax cuts announced in September,” he said.
He said there is a danger if the government will only “nibble at the edges” of the package because it will not be enough to win back support. “You could end up in that circumstance in the worst of worlds ― that you’ve U-turned but it doesn’t settle the markets,” he said.
Damian Green, a former deputy prime minister, expressed doubt over Ms Truss’s plan for the economy, and said tax cuts could be postponed as a way to reduce debt. Ms Truss has said she will not decrease public spending.
Mr Green told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme that the scrapping of some parts of the mini-budget were openly being discussed by some Tory MPs.
“It is indeed a topic of conversation around the tea rooms of the House of Commons as well, because we can all do the rough maths and see that it’s very difficult,” he said. “One of the obvious ways would be possibly to defer some of the tax cuts or the failure to put taxes up.”
Tory MP Nadine Dorries, a staunch backer of Ms Truss, hit out at the tidal wave of MPs in her own party who are turning on the leadership. In a tweet, she suggested it was mostly male MPs who were working to unseat the new prime minister in the same way they worked together to oust Boris Johnson.
"Those absurdly called grandee MPs [men] agitating to remove Liz Truss are all Sunak supporters," Ms Dorries wrote. "They agitated to remove Boris Johnson and now they will continue plotting until they get their way. It’s a plot not to remove a PM, but to overturn democracy."
Mr Kwarteng cut short his trip to Washington to fly back to the UK on Thursday evening. Reports suggested he had been called to urgent meetings with Downing Street officials to discuss potentially scrapping parts of the mini-budget.
Trade Minister Greg Hands refused to rule out possible changes ahead of Mr Kwarteng’s October 31 fiscal statement, telling Sky News the government “will make responses as appropriate as events happen”.
Mr Hands brushed off suggestions Ms Truss could be forced to sacrifice Mr Kwarteng to preserve her own job, insisting his position was “totally safe”. “I know the prime minister has got total confidence in Kwasi Kwarteng,” he said. The chancellor, he said, was “an incredibly capable person, a very, very bright person who makes good judgment calls”.
Markets rallied on Friday as traders awoke to reports suggesting the government was on the brink of backing down on its financial plan. Bond yields were down as markets opened, meaning investors were willing to offer lower borrowing costs to the UK government. The FTSE 100 stock index was up by 1.4 per cent, recouping some of its losses. The pound slipped back after gaining against the dollar on Thursday.