‘It can’t go on like this’ – it looks to be over for PM Truss | Beth Rigby

UK

It looks to be over.

Jeremy Hunt’s decision to not just junk most of Liz Truss’s tax-cutting plan but go further and ditch much of her flagship energy policy signalled the end of not only “Trussonomics”, but potentially the prime minister herself.

When the end comes is unclear: Ms Truss may have been bought some time by the fact the markets settled after the new chancellor threw her plans on the bonfire.

Prime Minister Liz Truss during a press conference in the briefing room at Downing Street, London. Picture date: Friday October 14, 2022.

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But with her policies demolished and her first choice of chancellor sacked, there’s no firewall left now between the PM and her fuming parliamentary party.

What’s more, the public appear to have made up their minds – Liz Truss has the worst ratings of any prime minister ever, according to polling last week.

She has reached, say many, a point of no return. From cabinet ministers to MPs, the mutterings are ominous: “It can’t go on like this,” one senior figure told me.

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And an increasing number of Conservative MPs are willing to make this view public. Five MPs have now called on Ms Truss to resign.

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PM says sorry for ‘mistakes’

‘I’ve just had enough – I don’t think her position is tenable’

In an interview with me earlier today, Sir Charles Walker told me he didn’t think her position was recoverable, as he laid bare some of the anguish that MPs are privately feeling behind closed doors.

“The PM has had a very torrid six weeks. Personally, I don’t think her position is tenable. She would take a different view. But if you read the mood of the parliamentary party, she has lost authority,” he said.

“You can’t lead the party if you don’t have some authority,” the former member of the 1922 executive committee told me.

He also said that the party had been “so catastrophically incompetent”, it was difficult to see the party winning an election.

“I’m just so cross. I’ve just had enough. I think quite a few of my colleagues have had enough. I’ll be dismissed as tired and emotional. Yes, I am tired and emotional. And I am angry. And I’m in the same place as many friends, family, and constituents.”

As for the future of Ms Truss, Sir Charles said the PM would either have to stand down or be forced out, as he predicted there would be a new prime minister by November.

“I think it’s her decision right now. I think if she doesn’t go right now, it will not be her decision. That agency will be taken away from her.”

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‘I don’t think her position is recoverable’

When I asked Sir Charles how long he thought she had got, he said simply: “A week or two.”

So we move from a question of can she survive to what comes next. A group of former cabinet ministers, now senior backbenchers, are in discussions as to how they might end the Truss regime and what might follow.

“The country is in serious trouble, and we have to get a grip of this,” says one former cabinet minister familiar with the discussions.

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Hunt, Sunak or Johnson for PM?

Some of the protagonists are plain to see and have been publicly agitating: Treasury select committee chairman, Mel Stride; former cabinet ministers Michael Gove, Grant Shapps, Julian Smith and Mark Harper, but there are plenty more operating in the shadows.

But the divisions that have riven this party remain, and MPs are already split over who should replace Liz Truss.

Two senior party figures tell me one option is to put Jeremy Hunt into the hot seat, but a Rishi Sunak supporter tells me that the role has to go to the runner-up in this summer’s leadership election, who won the support of 137 MPs in the final parliamentary ballot.

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Do Tory party members back Truss?

Another Sunak supporter points out that it is “Rishi’s policies that are now being implemented by a PM who disavowed them. It is entirely unprecedented”.

But for those in the party – MPs and party members – who backed Boris Johnson, Mr Sunak is an anathema.

“I just don’t think it would work,” says one senior Johnson ally.

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“He brought down Boris Johnson who had an elected mandate, I don’t think people will accept him.”

Instead, these key Johnson supporters want the return of the former PM.

Nadine Dorries went on Twitter on Monday to say the only option is to stick with Liz Truss or bring back the man with the mandate, Boris Johnson.

This is a view shared by others in the party. As another Johnson supporter put it to me: “He’s the one who won the mandate and he’s the only credible option if we want to avoid having a general election in the spring.”

For his part, I hear the former PM is still pretty angry about the way he was brought down, but it is worth remembering there remains a huge chunk of the parliamentary party that would find it near impossible to accept his return.

Ms Truss supporters hope that these divisions at least help buy her time. As one cabinet minister told me today: “The appointment of Jeremy Hunt buys her some space.”

Another told me that the emergency statement and “more settled markets have helped calm nerves”.

And Ms Truss will try to fight back. As she tries to shore up support and sell her U-turn, meetings are being held with parliamentary colleagues, from the One Nation Conservative caucus tonight, to the European Research Group, which represents her main base in the parliamentary party, tomorrow.

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What next for ‘Trussonomics’?

How could Liz Truss be removed from office?

But the PM and her team will know there are various ways that she could be removed from office.

Sir Graham Brady, the chair of the 1922 committee, could visit the prime minister and tell her she no longer commands the support of the parliamentary party. The question is where does he set that threshold?

Confidence votes are typically triggered when 15% of MPs write letters to Sir Graham expressing a view that they want the leader gone, but the new prime minister is protected from a confidence vote for a year.

If enough letters go in, however, that could change. MPs have suggested to me that if 100 or more were submitted, Sir Graham Brady might feel compelled to tap Ms Truss on the shoulder.

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And if she won’t go, the party could change the rules.

Under those scenarios, the prime minister either agrees to stand down – as happened with Theresa May – or is forced out by the parliamentary party under changed rules.

In practice, as Mr Johnson himself put it as he stood down as PM, “once the herd moves, it moves” – if enough MPs and members of government withdraw support, a prime minister simply cannot stay on.

There are no good options for Liz Truss or her party. MPs can sit on their hands and let Jeremy Hunt act as de facto prime minister, or force her out with all the difficulty that entails around succession and the public mandate.

But what is clear now is that the Truss premiership failed, and she cannot lead the Tories into the next general election.

We wait for the herd to move.

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