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Sunday, February 25, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Truss ends turbulent six-week tenure as British prime minster

It's been a roller-coaster ride for the United Kingdom: After the stupendously dramatic fall of Boris Johnson and the death of the beloved Queen Elizabeth II, the country is now watching Liz Truss resign from Downing Street as the shortest-serving prime minister ever.

(CN) — Liz Truss became the shortest-serving British prime minister in history after she resigned Thursday, only 45 days into a premiership that never got off the ground when her low-tax, high-borrowing economic plan was trashed by financial markets.

Her shocking resignation left British politics in complete disarray with opposition parties demanding national elections and the fractured Conservatives vowing to replace Truss within days.

The last six weeks have seen Britain ride an emotion-packed roller coaster.

On Sept. 6, Truss became the country's third female prime minister – and head of one of the most arch-conservative cabinets in its history – after winning a bitter Tory leadership contest.

She took over from the scandal-plagued Boris Johnson, the mop-haired political wunderkind who guided the U.K. out of the European Union with Brexit.

But on Thursday, the Tories decided Truss can't be their leader going into Britain's 2025 general elections.

With a short speech, Truss acknowledged her government could not be sustained and quit.

"We delivered on energy bills and on cutting national insurance. We have continued to stand with Ukraine and to protect our own security. And we set out a vision for a low tax, high growth economy – that would take advantage of the freedoms of Brexit," she said. "I recognise however that, given the situation, I cannot deliver the mandate on which I was elected by the Conservative Party. I have therefore spoken to his majesty the king to notify him that I am resigning as leader of the Conservative Party."

Her premiership seemed cursed from the start. Only two days after being appointed prime minister by Queen Elizabeth II, the queen died.

Elizabeth's death sent shockwaves across much of the world. The newly crowned monarch, King Charles III, declared two weeks of national mourning. Everything stopped as Britain paid its respects to its longest-serving monarch ever. It was the end of an era.

Besides being Britain's shortest-serving prime minister, Truss will be remembered for her speeches and presence at the mass ceremonies and tributes for Elizabeth.

No longer than the queen's casket was closed, British politics furiously got back to business.

Truss moved to hammer out an aggressive agenda to lower corporate taxes, reopen hydraulic fracking and North Sea oil exploration, cut welfare services and also lead a new brave Britain as a vanguard of the West's opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

But the wheels were spinning off.

First, she made few friends within the Tory party by appointing a cabinet full of allies – and alienating her chief rival from the Tory leadership contest, investment banker-turned-politician Rishi Sunak.

Sunak is a 42-year-old rising star of Conservative politics of Indian descent. He worked for Goldman Sachs, ran hedge funds and quickly charmed much of Britain with his good looks and intelligence. He is now a top candidate to become the next occupant of No. 10 Downing Street.

But Truss' colossal blunder came in late September when her cabinet presented a low-tax, pro-Brexit economic plan – a so-called “mini budget” – that promised to fund 45 billion pounds ($50 billion) worth of tax cuts through borrowing.

The announcement immediately triggered a financial crisis that sent the pound tumbling on foreign exchange markets to some of its lowest levels in history and left the government at loggerheads with the U.K.’s central bank over economic policy.

Markets were spooked by the new economic direction undertaken by Truss. In particular, the massive expansion of borrowing announced by the new government was viewed by lenders as excessively risky and undermining London's reputation for fiscal prudence.

The market reaction was fierce: The falling pound posed a danger to Britain's overheated housing market and pension funds too were at risk.

In the past week, Truss' economic policies were completely reversed in a stunning U-turn that left her powerless as top officials were forced to resign around her and rank-and-file Tories rebelled.

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

Follow @cainburdeau
Categories / Government, International, Politics

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