Liz Truss announced her resignation as prime minister of the UK on Thursday, saying she “cannot deliver her mandate” as leader after less than seven weeks on the job.
The shortest-serving political leader in the country's history will now make way for a new occupant of Downing Street when the Conservative Party selects her successor within the next week.
She stepped down on her 45th day in charge after a disastrous premiership during which a mini-budget she had sanctioned opened a £70 billion ($78.8bn) black hole in the public finances and triggered a run on the pound.
A little more than 24 hours after insisting she was “a fighter, not a quitter” in the House of Commons, Ms Truss stood at a lectern in Downing Street and said she had informed the king she was resigning.
Her announcement followed talks with the chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservatives, Sir Graham Brady, during which it became clear she could not hope to carry on.
The prime minister, accompanied by her husband, Hugh O’Leary, said a short leadership contest “will ensure that we remain on a path to deliver our fiscal plan and maintain our country’s economic stability and national security”.
“I will remain as prime minister until a successor has been chosen.”
The pound lifted on Ms Truss's announcement, with sterling rising $1.13 and holding the gains by the close. Her decision to resign will trigger a scramble among Tory leadership contenders who will face a daunting task to revive the party’s fortunes.
Jeremy Hunt, who was appointed chancellor last week, was quick to rule himself out as he focuses on calming the financial markets, while prominent former Cabinet minister Michael Gove will also sit out the contest.
Penny Mordaunt, viewed as a potential leadership contender after coming third in the previous contest, said she would “keep calm and carry on”. Runner-up to Ms Truss, Rishi Sunak, a former chancellor, is also in the frame alongside a handful of others.
Fevered speculation surrounded former prime minister Boris Johnson, who handed power over in September after he was forced out by rebellious MPs.
Trade minister Sir James Duddridge, Mr Johnson’s former parliamentary aide, used the hashtag #bringbackboris on Twitter, saying: “I hope you enjoyed your holiday boss. Time to come back. Few issues at the office that need addressing.”
Sir Graham said the process could be concluded by October 28 so the new leader can be in place in time for a crucial financial statement on October 31, which is intended to reassure the City of London that the government has a plan to repair the nation’s finances.
He later said leadership candidates to replace Ms Truss will need at least 100 nominations from Conservative MPs by 2pm on Monday.
There would then be an online vote for members if two candidates made it through the initial stage.
The requirement to get 100 nominations should be achievable by any candidate with a realistic chance of winning, Sir Graham said.
He added it would mean a maximum of three candidates on the ballot for MPs to vote on.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer demanded an immediate election so that the nation can have “a chance at a fresh start”.
“The Conservative Party has shown it no longer has a mandate to govern,” he said.
“After 12 years of Tory failure, the British people deserve so much better than this revolving door of chaos. In the last few years, the Tories have set record-high taxation, trashed our institutions and created a cost-of-living crisis.”
Ms Truss had summoned Sir Graham to Downing Street for a hastily arranged meeting on Thursday morning, with sources saying she was “taking the temperature” of the Tory party.
What Sir Graham told her was unclear, but she was left realising that her time was up. “The statement was the result” of their conversation, a source confirmed.
While Sir Graham was in Downing Street for more than an hour, Therese Coffey, the deputy prime minister, and Jake Berry, the chairman of the Conservative Party, arrived. Dominic Grieve, a former attorney general, said the situation had become untenable.
“It is anarchy and the government will be paralysed and incapable of operation and at that point, bluntly, they owe a duty to the public to hand over to somebody who can govern,” he said.
Now the shortest-serving prime minister in British history, Ms Truss has clocked only 45 days in office. The next shortest premiership was that of Tory statesman George Canning, who spent 118 full days as prime minister in 1827 before his death from ill health.
Ms Truss would have overtaken this number of days on January 3, 2023.
But instead she will fall short by more than two months, with the UK's next prime minister expected to be elected within the next week.
Ms Truss's announcement followed a day of chaos in Westminster on Wednesday in which:
— her home secretary, Suella Braverman, departed in acrimonious circumstances, becoming the second senior Cabinet member to be ditched in less than a week
— Ms Truss faced humiliation at Prime Ministers' Questions when she was laughed at by MPs as she came under fire from opposition leader Sir Keir, responding that she would not step down because she was “a fighter, not a quitter”
— there was mayhem in the Commons over a fracking vote, which Tory MPs had been told was a confidence vote
— accusations were made of bullying and manhandling by senior MPs to force colleagues to vote with the government
— confusion over whether the chief whip and deputy chief whip had quit
— a visibly upset Tory MP summed up the mood of the party by saying the events were “an absolute disgrace”