LONDON – Liz Truss became the shortest-serving leader in British political history after she resigned Thursday less than two months into the job.
Her announcement came after her attempt to roll out aggressive tax cuts aimed at spurring economic growth but instead dramatically roiled financial markets, led to unprecedented central bank intervention and drove her poll ratings to the lowest ever recorded for a prime minister.
Truss, 47, lasted 45 days in office. Because Britain elects a party, not a specific leader, she will be replaced by another lawmaker from her ruling Conservative Party. The process to replace Truss will take place within the next week.
Truss will remain as prime minister until then.
“I came into office at a time of great economic and international instability,” Truss said in in a brief statement outside No. 10 Downing Street in London. “I recognize, given the situation, I cannot deliver the mandate to which I was elected by the Conservative Party.”
The previous shortest tenure for a British leader was held by Sir Alec Douglas-Home, who served for one year and one day, from 1963 to 1964.
Why did Liz Truss resign? The move follows weeks of turmoil
Truss’s resignation comes after several weeks of political chaos during which she abandoned most of her economic policies.
Truss fired Kwasi Kwarteng, her close ally and finance minister, on Oct. 14, even though he was implementing the pro-growth agenda she campaigned on.
Kwarteng was replaced by Jeremy Hunt, a former foreign minister who was beaten to the prime minister job by Boris Johnson in 2019. Hunt also failed to make a runoff in the Conservative Party process that selected Truss.
WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT LIZ TRUSS: She models herself on Margaret Thatcher
Since she took over, multiple polls have shown that the opposition Labor Party would likely win a landslide victory in a general election. Under British political rules, the Conservative Party must call an election before January 2025.
Sunak is the front-runner, according to betting markets and news reports. Sunak, 42, lost out to Truss when she became prime minister on Sept. 6. Sunak was Johnson’s finance minister. Before embarking on a career in politics, Sunak worked for Goldman Sachs and at a hedge fund. He met his wife, the daughter of the co-founder of Infosys, one of India’s largest technology companies, while studying for an MBA at Stanford University. The couple have an estimated wealth of $1 billion, according to The Sunday Times Rich List, an annual gauge of the 1,000 wealthiest people and families in the U.K. Sunak served in Johnson’s Cabinet as finance minister.
Mordaunt, 49, leader of the House of Commons, was once regarded as the most likely lawmaker to succeed Johnson. She has been a member of Parliament since 2010 and served as trade minister. She also had a stint as minister for local government and was the first woman named armed forces minister. Mordaunt was one of the leaders behind the “Brexit” referendum approved by voters in 2016, which led to Britain’s separation from the EU. She is a reservist in the Royal Navy.
Hunt, 55, is another longtime Cabinet minister with leadership ambitions. He appears to have already ruled himself out for prime minister, but a week has become a long time in British politics lately, so he could find a way to reassert himself in the contest. Tim Bale, politics professor at Queen Mary University of London, described Hunt as the “Mitt Romney of British politics” in 2019, a reference to the Utah senator known for his professionalism and lack of political charisma.
Wallace, 52, is Britain’s defense secretary and has won plaudits at home and abroad for his strong support for Ukraine as it fights off a Russian invasion. Wallace supported Truss when she ran for prime minister, which could work against him.
Johnson, 58, left office himself only on Sept. 6, but his name has never been far from the headlines as a possible candidate for a comeback. Johnson is still well liked by Conservative Party members even though he resigned after a series of scandals connected to coronavirus lockdowns. Johnson has been silent on whether he’d take the job again. The Times (of London) is reporting Johnson is considering running in the contest.
What happens next?
- Sir Graham Brady, leader of the 1922 committee, a group of influential Conservative Party lawmakers who determine party rules, said he expects a new prime minister to be announced by Oct. 28. Truss was selected by ordinary Conservative Party grassroots members, about 81,000 of them. Brady announced late Thursday that to enter the race to be the next party leader and thus prime minister, candidates need to secure the backing of 100 lawmakers by Monday.
- Because there are 357 Conservative parliamentarians, this means a maximum of three lawmakers will be on the short list. If three make the list, lawmakers will vote on those, and the candidate with the least support will be eliminated. If a second vote is needed, lawmakers will then be able to signal whom they prefer in what is called an “indicative vote.” If both candidates choose to stay in the contest after this second round, then the final decision will be made again by the 81,000 grassroots members of the party who elected Truss.
- Opposition Labor Party leader Sir Keir Starmer has called for an immediate general election, a scenario that seems unlikely give that the ruling Conservative Party, according to polls, would almost certainly lose any such vote.
What are they saying?
- Bronwen Maddox, director, Chatham House, a London-based think tank: “There is no question that the U.K.’s standing in the world has been severely battered by this episode and by the revolving door of prime ministers (three in a year). For the U.K. to regain respect – and an image of reliability – it needs to acquire another soon, one who is capable of putting policies into action. Those need to be based on economic stability but need also to include a resolution of the relationship with Europe; much of the upheaval represents the bitter aftermath of Brexit. Visas and students, defense commitments, relations with the U.S. and China – all those need to be clarified and constant.”
- Richard Toye, history and politics professor, University of Exeter, England: “Liz Truss had a difficult hand and played it appallingly, resulting in her becoming the shortest serving British prime minister in history. Her tenure deserves to be remembered as more than the answer to a Trivial Pursuit question, however, because it symbolized the logical outcome of a broader crisis that for years has gripped the Conservative Party and the U.K. political system more generally. Truss may not be remembered as the person who definitively killed the Tories as a political force. That honor will perhaps fall to her successor.”
- President Joe Biden: “The United States and the United Kingdom are strong allies and enduring friends – and that fact will never change. I thank Prime Minister Liz Truss for her partnership on a range of issues including holding Russia accountable for its war against Ukraine. We will continue our close cooperation with the U.K. government as we work together to meet the global challenges our nations face.”
- Liz Truss, on Wednesday: “I’m a fighter, not a quitter.”
British stocks, bonds and the pound currency all gained in value after Truss’s resignation announcement.