Wednesday, Dec 06, 2023

Liz Truss Resigns, Will Rishi Sunak Take Over As UK PM?

Liz Truss Resigns, Will Rishi Sunak Take Over As UK PM?

Sir Graham Brady, the senior-most Tory backbencher as the chair of the 1922 Committee, on Thursday met with her for an unscheduled meeting at Downing Street as at least 13 Tory MPs openly called for Truss to go. 

Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak PTI

British Prime Minister Liz Truss has stepped down as the UK Prime Minister after facing an open revolt against her leadership as an increasing number of Conservative Party MPs called for her to resign amid mounting chaos at the heart of the UK government. All eyes are now on former chancellor Rishi Sunak to be parachuted in to take charge.

Truss became the shortest-serving British Prime Minister with a tenure lasting for only 45 days.

Sir Graham Brady, the senior-most Tory backbencher as the chair of the 1922 Committee, on Thursday met with her for an unscheduled meeting at Downing Street as at least 13 Tory MPs openly called for Truss to go. 

Under the current rules, Truss technically could not have faced a leadership challenge for at least 12 months but there have been growing murmurs of either a swift change of rules or an ultimatum to her that she no longer has the support of her colleagues.

Sunak, who lost out to Truss' now failed tax-cutting agenda in the leadership race last month, is seen as a key contender to step up to the post. But the picture remains extremely uncertain due to deep infighting within Tory ranks. Loyalists of former Prime Minister Boris Johnson believe the party should bring him back, given his solid electoral mandate from the 2019 general election. However, Truss’ current troubles have been reminiscent of how Johnson was dragged out of office and forced to resign in early July amid an open revolt by a growing number of his MPs and ministers.

Truss's resignation comes a day after Suella Braverman’s explosive exit from the Cabinet after admitting a breach of the ministerial code by discussing government policy in private emails and a scathing parting attack on her boss.

However, while stepping down from her post, Braverman, the minister responsible for immigration and law and order, criticised Prime Minister Liz Truss, saying she had “concerns about the direction of this government”. Although Braverman, who belongs to the Conservative’s far-right wing, cited a “technical breach” of government as her reason to quit the party, it is evident how her differing views from Truss forced her out of the party. 

“Not only have we broken key pledges that were promised to our voters, but I have had serious concerns about this government’s commitment to honouring manifesto commitments, such as reducing overall migration numbers and stopping illegal migration, particularly the dangerous small boat crossings,” reads the Indian-origin former Home Secretary’s resignation letter.

Her exit came over what experts believe was a relatively low-level ministerial breach but reflects more serious differences between Braverman and Truss over the country’s immigration policy. 

The former Prime Minister attempted to move on from the latest crisis by swiftly appointing Grant Shapps as the new Home Secretary. But coming just days after she sacked Kwasi Kwarteng as chancellor and brought in Jeremy Hunt who has since reversed all of her economic agenda, the latest Cabinet upheaval was widely expected to only speed up Truss’ exit from 10 Downing Street.

To make matters even worse, the Speaker of the House of Commons ordered an investigation into reports of bullying and manhandling of some Tory MPs being made to vote with the government on an Opposition motion on Wednesday night. 

Confusion erupted after Labour tabled a vote on whether MPs should get a say on the government's fracking plans to drill for gas. Conservative MPs were initially told the vote would be treated as a test of loyalty to the government, a so-called motion of confidence, and if they did not oppose the Opposition Labour motion they could face disciplinary action from the parliamentary party. Chaotic scenes were caught on camera in the voting lobby of the Commons as whips tried to get Tory MPs to oppose the Labour motion. There were reports of further resignations from Truss' top team, which were later withdrawn.

The Labour Leader, Sir Keir Starmer, renewed his call for a general election as the only way out of the “pathetic squabbles” within the governing party.

“All the failures of the past 12 years have now come to the boil,” he said at an event in Brighton, with reference to the Tory-led government’s term in office.

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Who is Rishi Sunak?

Rishi Sunak, the former finance minister, was among one of the most preferred replacements for Johnson as the next British premier. And now all eyes are on him as the political crisis in the UK deepens. If that happens, the 42-year-old could become the first Indian-origin prime minister of the UK.

He was praised for a COVID-19 economic rescue package, comprising an expensive jobs retention programme that averted mass unemployment in the country. However, Sunak was also criticised for not providing enough cost-of-living support to households. His standing was damaged by revelations about his wealthy wife’s non-domicile tax status and a fine he received, along with Johnson, for violating the COVID lockdown rules. 

Born in the UK's Southhampton area to an Indian family, Rishi Sunak is the son of a pharmacist mother and a National Health Service (NHS) general practitioner (GP) father. His grandparents are from Punjab.

Sunak first became a Member of Parliament (MP) in 2015 after he got elected from Richmond, Yorkshire. He swiftly rose through the ranks of the Conservative party and supported calls for ‘Brexit’. Sunak was among Johnson’s supporters during his ‘leave EU’ campaign. He created history in February 2020 when he was designated as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which is the most important UK Cabinet post.

Sunak’s fame took a hit after the ‘partygate’ scandal, violating COVID-19 norms and organising lockdown parties at government offices. This eventually led to a crisis in the Johnson government.

Ever since Sunak took charge as Chancellor, there has been a lot of conjecture within the UK media about him eyeing the post of prime minister.

ALSO READ: UK Crisis: Why Indian-origin UK Minister Suella Braverman Quit The Liz Truss Govt

Braverman's differing opinion on the UK-India tie

Far-right wing Conservative leader Braverman spoke against the India-UK trade deal making comments about Indian migrants overstaying their visas, adding a further serious blow to Truss’s authority.

Recently, in an interview, Braverman talked about the “reservations” in the proposed Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with India and linked the same with “illegal migration”. 

India and the UK are close to sealing a free trade agreement (FTA), which aims to increase bilateral trade, facilitate the smooth movement of people between the two countries, and cut tariffs on the import of Scotch whiskey into India. While the deal was to be signed by Diwali, the deadline has now been pushed, and Barverman’s comments are seen as having played a role in that.

In an interview with the London-based magazine The Spectator, Braverman expressed her concern over the easing migration policy between England and India through the FTA, which the countries are deciding to seal by the end of this year. 

“I have concerns about having an open borders migration policy with India because I don’t think that’s what people voted for with Brexit,” Braverman said.

Braverman’s view on the FTA stands in direct contrast to the view of Truss cutting through their ties as fellow leaders. 

(with inputs from PTI)