UK PM Liz Truss under growing pressure as backbench plot thickens

Truss apologises for 'mistakes' as she faces becoming Britain's shortest-serving leader

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As Liz Truss battles to save her faltering tenure and avoid becoming the UK’s shortest-serving prime minister, the committee responsible for her fate is set to undergo changes.

The 1922 Committee of Conservative Party backbench MPs will elect a new vice chairman and executive member after former members Nusrat Ghani and Aaron Bell were handed government roles.

Nominations for the posts closed on Monday evening. The vote, which backbench Tory MPs and parliamentary private secretaries are eligible to take part in, is expected to take place on Tuesday.

A meeting of the new executive will be held on Wednesday.

MPs Eddie Hughes, Iain Stewart, Jo Gideon and Harriet Baldwin are all vying for roles on the committee.

The contest comes after Ms Truss held a private meeting with the committee’s chairman, Sir Graham Brady, on Monday.

While it is not known what was said in the talks, it does not usually bode well for Tory leaders if they hold a private meeting with the chief of the powerful group of backbench MPs.

While the meeting was said to have been planned, it will have been useful for Ms Truss to gauge her standing in the party, because Sir Graham is attuned to the mood of members.

The committee decides the party rule book, including when a vote of confidence can be held, and holds a lot of sway when it comes to deciding the future of a leader.

The rules state that a prime minister cannot face a confidence vote during their first year in office. Once that period has passed, 15 per cent of Conservative MPs would need to submit letters of no confidence to the committee’s chairman for a vote to be held.

If that threshold is met and a ballot called, 50 per cent of lawmakers would need to vote that they have no confidence in a leader for them to be removed.

But the committee of backbench Tory MPs – those who do not hold government positions – has the authority to change the rules.

Five Conservative MPs have publicly called for Ms Truss to resign over her economic policies, most of which were scrapped on Monday by new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt.

Several other MPs have said they do not believe it is in the best interests of the party or the UK for Ms Truss to remain in power.

A Conservative former government minister on Tuesday said the “lull” in Tory MPs voicing concerns about the state of the government was likely down to fears that further uncertainty risked spooking financial markets again.

The Bank of England was forced to intervene to shore up government bond markets after former chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng unveiled his tax-slashing mini-budget on September 23. Jeremy Hunt, his replacement, on Monday reversed almost all the measures laid out in the package.

Speaking to The National ahead of the 1922 Committee’s votes, Conservative MP Liam Fox said lawmakers were absorbing the series of U-turns and holding back on speaking out.

“There is a lull as people take in Jeremy Hunt’s measures,” he said.

“MPs may ultimately decide that they want a change of leader but I think they are very wary of spooking the markets any further.”

Mr Fox has been an MP since 1992 and served as international trade secretary and defence secretary in previous administrations.

He said the chaos engulfing the Truss administration is unprecedented in his 20 years in British politics.

The prime minister apologised to the British public on Monday night. “I do want to accept responsibility and say sorry, for the mistakes that have been made," she told the BBC.

If there is growing desire among Tory MPs for Ms Truss to be pushed out of office, the 1922 Committee could scrap the rules and hold a vote of confidence in the coming days and weeks.

Former chancellor Rishi Sunak has spoken with Cabinet minister Penny Mordaunt with a view to forming a new government if Ms Truss is removed, party sources told The National.

Several media reports suggest Sir Graham has already received dozens of letters of no confidence in Ms Truss, with some saying 100 have been submitted.

If the rules were changed, Ms Truss could face further humiliation by being subjected to a vote of confidence earlier in her tenure than any other prime minister.

If she lost, she could become the UK’s shortest-serving leader. That title is currently held by Conservative prime minister George Canning, who died after 119 days in office in 1827.

Ms Truss needs to remain in power until January 3 to pass that mark.

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Updated: October 18, 2022, 1:45 PM