What happens next for Liz Truss as Tory MPs demand 'change today'?

UK prime minister's time in office appears to be running out as her party turns against her

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Liz Truss's grasp on Downing Street was loosening by the minute on Thursday with her authority shot to pieces and commentators counting her remaining time as prime minister in days, possibly hours.

A string of backbenchers called for her to step down, with one saying there must be "change today". Officials of the influential 1922 Committee, which is crucial to a prime minister's authority, will meet today to discuss her fate. Fourteen Tory MPs have now publicly called for her to step aside.

Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the committee, entered Downing Street via a back door shortly before midday and remains in talks with the prime minister. Downing Street sources said that Ms Truss had asked Sir Graham to see her, apparently to gauge the feeling amongst the party.

The pound, which faced a battering over the disastrous mini-budget, slid again as traders digested the growing turmoil in Westminster.

It follows 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

· She faced humiliation at Prime Ministers' Questions as she was laughed at by MPs as she came under fire from opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer, 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 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"

Death by 1,000 cuts

All of this came days after the new chancellor ripped up Ms Truss's economic plan moments after she refused to turn up to answer an urgent question in the Commons.

She had already been forced to sack her original chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, after his PM-approved mini-budget aiming for growth instead caused the markets to tank.

The sheer number of dramas dogging Ms Truss's premiership may come to a head ― one way or another ― as she faces open revolt among MPs while she tries to contain the fall-out from a calamitous 24 hours for her premiership.

The chaotic scenes in the House of Commons were condemned as “inexcusable” by a senior Tory backbencher who said he was fed up of "talentless ministers who tick a box to further their personal careers".

Sir Charles Walker, a former vice-chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench MPs, said he was “livid” about recent turmoil and warned that unless the party starts to “behave like grown-ups” then “perhaps 200” MPs could find themselves out of jobs.

Those who helped put Ms Truss into power as prime minister also have a lot to answer for, he said in the Commons on Wednesday.

Speaking after the government defeated Labour’s attempt to ban fracking amid farcical scenes and accusations of pushing and shoving as MPs voted, Sir Charles told BBC News: “To be perfectly honest, this whole affair is inexcusable.

“It is a pitiful reflection on the Conservative parliamentary party at every level and it reflects really badly, obviously, on the government of the day.”

Sir Charles said he is leaving parliament voluntarily at the next general election.

“Unless we get our act together and behave like grown-ups, I’m afraid many hundreds of my colleagues, perhaps 200, will be leaving at the behest of their electorate,” he said.

Asked if there is any coming back from this, Sir Charles, visibly angry, said: “I don’t think so. And I have to say I’ve been of that view, really, since two weeks ago.

“This is an absolute disgrace. As a Tory MP of 17 years who’s never been a minister, who’s got on with it loyally most of the time, I think it’s a shambles and a disgrace. I think it is utterly appalling. I’m livid.”

With inflation at a 40-year high and mortgage rates jumping, the scenes of MPs warring and scheming in parliament risk deepening anger among voters who are preparing for a tough winter of rising food and energy costs.

Will Liz Truss resign?

The prime minister made it clear in the Commons on Wednesday that she had no intention of handing back the keys to 10 Downing Street, less than seven weeks into her tenure.

But the clamour for her to fall on her sword is becoming louder with each new disaster.

Conservative MP Crispin Blunt said on Thursday Ms Truss should step aside immediately, claiming she did not have the qualities to be prime minister and should never have put herself up for the leadership race.

Asked how he would describe her position, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Wholly untenable. And if she doesn’t understand that then I would be astonished.

The five candidates vying to replace Liz Truss - in pictures

"It’s plain what is required. We need to effect a change, frankly, today, in order to stop this shambles and give our country the governance it needs under our constitution.”

Tory MP Gary Streeter said the party must ditch Ms Truss.

“Sadly, it seems we must change leader. But even if the Angel Gabriel now takes over, the parliamentary party has to urgently rediscover discipline, mutual respect and teamwork if we are to (i) govern the UK well and (ii) avoid slaughter at the next election,” he said on Twitter, adding the hashtag #lastchance.

Conservative MP Simon Hoare said Thursday and Friday are “crunch days” for the government.

He said: "Can the ship be turned around? Yes. But I think there’s about 12 hours to do it.

“I think today and tomorrow are crunch days. I have never known ― OK, I’ve only been an MP for seven years ― but a growing sense of pessimism in all wings of the Tory party.

“Usually it’s one or the other, but to have it across the party should be ringing alarm bells in Number 10 and Number 11.”

Will her Cabinet resign?

It was the resignations of his Cabinet that effectively sealed Boris Johnson's fate this summer. With almost 60 senior colleagues walking out on him after a series of scandals, he was left with no choice but to hand in his notice.

As yet, Ms Truss's Cabinet has not jumped ship.

Her home secretary, Suella Braverman, resigned after a security breach involving the use of a personal mobile phone to discuss sensitive government business. In her resignation letter, she made her unhappiness with Ms Truss's government clear, saying she had concerns about its direction and the promises that had been broken. With a swipe at her boss, who has said she made "mistakes" regarding the economy, Ms Braverman said: "I have made a mistake; I accept responsibility; I resign."

However, it is understood Ms Braverman was effectively sacked by Ms Truss over the incident, which came hours after what was described as a 90-minute "shouting match" between the pair and new chancellor Jeremy Hunt over the need to loosen migration policy to help the economy grow.

No other senior member of Ms Truss's team has resigned, although she did sack Mr Kwarteng last week.

But support for her is far from convincing.

Cabinet minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the minister sent out on the morning media round to put the government case, called for “mutual support” in the Conservative Party.

She stopped short of saying Ms Truss will definitely fight the next election as leader of the Conservative Party.

Asked if she wants Ms Truss to lead the Tories into the next election, she said: “Yes, I want her to continue delivering the really important work that we’re doing ― a lot of legislation to come.”

Pressed on whether she believes this will happen for certain, she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “So, we all stand firmly with her to get on with delivering the business of government.”

Ms Truss's newest Cabinet member is Grant Shapps, who replaced Ms Braverman. It may be a calculated move by the embattled prime minister to get a Tory big beast on her side ― and one who is seen as a sharp-elbowed plotter who could otherwise help bring about her removal from No 10.

Liz Truss's newest Cabinet member is Grant Shapps, who replaced Suella Braverman as home secretary. Simon Dawson / No 10 Downing Street

But after a short-lived Tory leadership bid of his own, Mr Shapps became a major backer of Ms Truss’s rival Rishi Sunak in the contest over the summer.

The former transport secretary is said to have recorded Tory colleagues’ doubts about Ms Truss in a running spreadsheet, wielded on a pricey foldable smartphone.

He also caused a headache for Ms Truss when he joined a revolt against her tax cuts, saying he was profoundly concerned about the plans and branding her decision to scrap the 45p top rate ― which she has since reversed ― as “politically tin-eared”.

He spent the Conservative Party conference this month warning that Tory MPs would not “sit on their hands” in ousting Ms Truss if there was no improvement.

Only two nights before his appointment, Mr Shapps told a theatre audience that Ms Truss had a “Mount Everest to climb” to remain in power and that her decision to surround herself largely with those who supported her campaign meant her base was too narrow to successfully lead the party.

Will backbenchers force her out?

The real power in the Tory party lies with Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbenchers. They have the power to force out a prime minister by withdrawing their confidence.

Mr Brady has already had two meetings with the prime minister this week in which he is understood to have made it clear she is on borrowed time.

He could still make it clear she no longer commands support.

Technically, Ms Truss has 12 months' grace from the time she takes office until the backbenchers can make their move.

But rules are there to be broken and Mr Brady has the power to change the rules.

It is being speculated that anywhere between 50 and 100 no-confidence letters have been handed in, although the threshold at which Mr Brady would feel forced to act is not known. Usually, it stands at 15 per cent of Tory MPs.

Can she survive?

Even Ms Truss's most ardent supporters ― the members who voted her into office less than two months ago ― will recognise that the chances of her clinging on are slim. However, her premiership could be prolonged because of circumstance.

To remove Ms Truss, the Tories need a replacement. To leave office with no guaranteed successor would risk causing further instability and disrupt markets once more.

However, as one commentator put it, there is no unity over who should be the unity candidate. Various iterations of Rishi Sunak, Penny Mordaunt and Jeremy Hunt have been suggested but the party is so split between left and right wings that it could take some time to resolve.

One more matter in her favour is the medium-term fiscal plan which is due to be announced on October 31. Bringing it forward to that date, and allowing the Office for Budget responsibility to cast its eyes over the books, is what helped to stabilise the markets after Mr Kwarteng's original tax giveaway mini-budget caused them to plunge.

Senior members of the Tory party who would have to pick up the pieces if the economy were to tank again may rather wait until it is out of the way before plunging the knife.

Updated: October 20, 2022, 11:31 AM
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