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Liz Truss becomes shortest serving UK Prime Minister

By Imogen Shaw
20 October 2022

By Imogen Shaw

Following a politically extraordinary 24 hours in what has been a politically extraordinary six weeks, Liz Truss has resigned after having been in office for only 45 days - the shortest tenure of any UK Prime Minister.

Last night, a Commons vote on fracking descended into chaos after more than 40 Conservative MPs failed to back the government, with some opposition MPs alleging that they saw hesitant Conservatives physically pulled into the voting lobbies.

The chaos began before voting commenced on the Labour motion, which sought to set up a vote that would officially ban shale gas drilling in England. In advance of the vote, a screenshot of a message from Deputy Chief Whip Craig Whittaker was widely shared on social media, which described the fracking vote as a confidence vote in the government.

However, following hours of speculation and interventions from several Conservative MPs, including Net Zero Review Chair Chris Skidmore, stating that they would not go against their 2019 manifesto commitments and vote in favour of shale gas drilling, the story appeared to shift. Climate Minister Graham Stuart stated in the Commons that, “quite clearly this is not a confidence vote”. Stuart was immediately halted by one of his party colleagues, a clearly frustrated Ruth Edwards, who made clear that she and other Conservative MPs had been told they would lose the whip if they failed to vote with the government.

Yesterday’s events came to a close with many left uncertain whether Chief Whip Wendy Morton and her Deputy Whittaker had resigned, amidst reports that Morton robustly remonstrated with Truss outside the voting lobbies before walking out, leaving the PM to briefly abandon the vote herself in pursuit of her Chief Whip. A strongly worded quote attributed to Whittaker has been making the rounds in the media, leading to speculation that he too may have resigned.

Even Business Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg, sent out on a broadcast round to try and manage the situation, had to tell Sky News that he was “not entirely clear” whether Morton had quit.

The shambolic vote sounded the death knell for Truss’ beleaguered premiership. Truss and her agenda never recovered from the catastrophic market response to her first Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s September ‘mini-Budget’. The sharp rise in mortgage costs, the hit to the value of the pound and the near-miss pension funds crisis that followed the fiscal event set off a vicious circle of chaos from which the government could not escape.

In the six weeks Truss has been in office, she has sacked the Chancellor who attempted to deliver the economic agenda on which she campaigned for the leadership of her party, and replaced him with Jeremy Hunt, who immediately undid the majority of her administration’s flagship economic policies. Her first Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, resigned yesterday, ostensibly following a technical breach of ministerial rules – amidst reports that her departure had more to do with her opposition to Truss’ plans to liberalise immigration rules to make it easier for the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) to say the government would hit its growth targets.

That the resignation of the Home Secretary was neither the most prominent nor the most damaging political news story of the day is emblematic of a government unable to function.

What happens next? In her statement to the public this afternoon, the PM announced that her successor will be chosen within a week “to deliver our fiscal plans and maintain our country’s economic stability”. According to Sir Graham Brady, the Chairman of the 1922 Committee of Conservative MPs that runs party leadership contests, Conservative members will be “consulted”.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has already ruled himself out of contention, and Leader of the House Penny Mordaunt and last time runner-up Rishi Sunak are currently the bookies’ favourites to succeed Truss. However, the potential candidate that everyone is talking about is former PM Boris Johnson.

Johnson has reportedly been taking soundings about seeking to get his old job back. If reports that he is expected to stand in the Conservative leadership contest are true, it will likely unleash a fresh wave of discord within the ranks of Conservative MPs. Johnson also remains under investigation by the Privileges Committee over allegedly misleading the House in relation to ‘Partygate’. The Committee is shortly due to begin taking evidence on whether he broke the ministerial code. If he chooses to stand, it would be – to say the least – a challenging backdrop against which to attempt a return to No.10.

The Parliamentary Conservative Party has so far been unable to coalesce around a ‘unity candidate’ to replace Liz Truss. The next week will tell whether one will emerge – and whether Johnson will attempt to realise his ambition to resume the premiership.