British Prime Minister Liz Truss is fighting to hold on to her job after her interior minister resigned and Conservative legislators openly quarrelled in parliament over a vote on fracking for shale gas.
The departure of Suella Braverman on Wednesday — over a “technical” breach of government rules — means Truss has now lost two of her most senior ministers in less than a week, both replaced by politicians who had not backed her for the leadership.
Braverman said she resigned after breaching rules by sending an official document from her personal email account. She used her resignation letter to lambast Truss, saying she had “concerns about the direction of this government”.
“The business of government relies upon people accepting responsibility for their mistakes,” she said. “Pretending we haven’t made mistakes, carrying on as if everyone can’t see that we have made them and hoping that things will magically come right is not serious politics.”
Braverman is a popular figure on the Conservative Party’s right wing and a champion of more restrictive immigration policies who ran unsuccessfully for party leader, a contest won by Truss in early September.
Braverman was replaced as home secretary, the minister responsible for immigration and law and order, by former Cabinet minister Grant Shapps.
He is a high-profile supporter of Rishi Sunak, the former Treasury chief defeated by Truss in the final round of the Conservative leadership race.
Hours after Braverman’s resignation, legislators openly rowed and jostled amid confusion over whether the vote on fracking was a confidence vote in her administration.
With a large Conservative majority in Parliament, an opposition call for a fracking ban was easily defeated by 326 votes to 230, but some legislators were furious that Conservative Party whips said the vote would be treated as a confidence motion, meaning the government would fall if the motion passed.
There were angry scenes in the House of Commons during and after the vote, with party whips accused of using heavy-handed tactics to gain votes. Labour legislator Chris Bryant said he “saw members being physically manhandled … and being bullied”.
Conservative officials denied there had been manhandling, but in the chaos Truss herself failed to vote, according to the official record. Many Conservative legislators were left despondent by the state of their party.
Conservative legislator Charles Walker said it was “a shambles and a disgrace”.
“I hope that all those people that put Liz Truss in [office], I hope it was worth it,” he told the BBC. “I hope it was worth it to sit around the Cabinet table, because the damage they have done to our party is extraordinary.”
Truss, in power for just more than six weeks, has been fighting for her political survival ever since September 23, when she launched a “mini-budget” — an economic programme of vast unfunded tax cuts that sent shockwaves through financial markets.
A handful of legislators have openly called for her to quit, and others have discussed who should replace her. Following the scenes in parliament, there were reports that the person responsible for Conservative party discipline, and their deputy, had quit.
Business Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg asked on television if the reports were correct, said: “I’m not entirely clear on what the situation is.”
Truss’s office said later they both remained in their posts, but the episode illustrated the confusion in government and underlined the prime minister’s faltering authority.
The dramatic developments came days after Truss fired her Treasury chief, Kwasi Kwarteng, after their economic package — with 45 billion pounds ($50.4bn) in unfunded tax cuts — sent the pound plunging, interest rates soaring and forced The Bank of England to intervene.
On Monday, Kwarteng’s replacement, Jeremy Hunt, scrapped almost all of Truss’s tax cuts, along with her flagship energy policy and promise of no public spending cuts.
He said the government would need to save billions of pounds and there were “many difficult decisions” to be made before he sets out a medium-term fiscal plan on October 31.
‘Why is she still here?’
Speaking to legislators for the first time since the U-turn, Truss apologised on Wednesday and admitted she had made mistakes during her six weeks in office but insisted that by changing course, she had “taken responsibility and made the right decisions in the interest of the country’s economic stability”.
Opposition legislators shouted “Resign!” as she spoke in the House of Commons.
Asked by opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer, “Why is she still here?” Truss retorted: “I am a fighter and not a quitter. I have acted in the national interest to make sure that we have economic stability.”
The prime minister was met with laughter, boos and jeers, especially when she told Labour it needed to grasp economic reality.
Official figures released on Wednesday showed UK inflation rose to 10.1 percent in September, returning to a 40-year high first hit in July, as the soaring cost of food squeezed household budgets.
While inflation is high around the world — driven up by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its effect on energy supplies — polls show most Britons blame the government for the country’s economic pain.
With opinion polls giving the Labour Party a large and growing lead, many Conservatives now believe their only hope of avoiding electoral oblivion is to replace Truss. But she insists she is not stepping down, and legislators are divided about how to get rid of her.
“I think its absolutely clear that Liz Truss is not going to lead the Conservative Party into the next general election. The question is how soon the end comes,” Chris Wilkins, a former conservative speechwriter, told Al Jazeera.
“And frankly it would have already happened if the Conservative Party could come up with a mechanism to make sure they could replace her with someone who is palatable to the MPs and somebody who could unite all sides of the party. They’ve not been able to do that, so she’s still there.”
Conservative legislator William Wragg said he had submitted a letter of no confidence in the prime minister, joining a handful of others who have called for her to go. Wragg said he was “ashamed” of facing voters after the mini-budget.
Former science minister, George Freeman, said: “Enough is enough. The Cabinet need to get a grip, fast.”