When she took the keys to 10 Downing Street in the wake of Boris Johnson’s political demise, Liz Truss promised to “ride out the storm” of Britain’s economic crisis. Just over six weeks later, she was engulfed by a hurricane of her own making.
It was a humiliating end to a calamitous premiership marked by failed economic policies and a deeply divided ruling party.
How did it come to this? Here are the lowlights – and lowerlights – of Truss’ term as Britain’s shortest-serving prime minister.
Truss is declared the winner of the Conservative Party leadership contest on September 5 after her predecessor, Boris Johnson, is forced to step down following a series of ethics scandals.
The omens aren’t good. The country is facing a bruised economy, a spiraling cost of living crisis and a crumbling healthcare service. Truss, who served as foreign secretary in Johnson’s government, also faces huge diplomatic challenges in the face of Russia’s war on Ukraine.
In her first speech as prime minister, in Downing Street on September 6, she tells the country that “together we can ride out the storm.”
She says her priorities included tackling soaring energy prices, improving the UK’s energy security and fixing the National Health Service.
Just two days into Truss’ premiership Queen Elizabeth II dies at the age of 96, sending the country into a period of national mourning.
Truss pays tribute to the Queen as a symbol of stability who ruled through crises, tragedies, political scandals, pandemic and recessions.
“Queen Elizabeth II was the rock on which modern Britain was built,” the new prime minister says. “Our country has grown and flourished under her reign.”
The period of mourning gives Truss a breathing space, the chance to take a break from a marathon leadership campaign that lasted most of the summer.
There is also a hope that the moment will inspire a new, unifying approach to political debate, whatever people’s personal politics.
That doesn’t last.
It’s Truss’ first big move as prime minister. Her finance minister and closest friend in politics, Kwasi Kwarteng, unveils a sweeping plan to extricate the country from recession, which includes a swath of tax cuts that will be funded by higher government borrowing.
The plan’s a huge gamble – the biggest tax cuts in 50 years, without a clear plan on how to pay for them. Usually, big fiscal statements in the UK are audited independently by the Office for Budget Responsibility. But Kwarteng says there was no time for such an audit – a move that stuns financial markets and sends the pound plunging.
The prime minister later defends her government’s controversial tax cuts in an exclusive interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper.
She says that by cutting taxes, her government is “incentivizing businesses to invest and we’re also helping ordinary people with their taxes.”
Bond prices subsequently collapse, sending borrowing costs soaring, sparking mayhem in the mortgage market and pushing pension funds to the brink of insolvency.
The economic turmoil and the prospect of higher mortgage rates force Truss to walk back key components of her financial plan.
After ditching her plan to slash the highest rate of income tax, she fires Kwarteng in October in a desperate attempt to salvage her position.
“It was right, in the face of the issues we had, that I acted decisively to ensure that we had economic stability,” Truss says.
In a letter posted on Twitter, Kwarteng says he agreed to step down at Truss’ behest.
Truss appoints former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt as Kwarteng’s replacement, making him Britain’s fourth finance minister in just over three months.
Just three days into the job, Hunt says he will scrap “almost all” tax measures announced by his predecessor, in an effort to calm spooked markets and restore the government’s credibility.
A proposed cut to the basic rate of income tax from April 2023 is postponed “indefinitely.” And while the government says it will still guarantee energy prices for households and businesses through this winter, it won’t commit to capping prices beyond next spring.
The moves amount to a gutting of Truss’ flagship “growth plan” and leave her in a perilous political position.
While investors show support for Hunt’s new plan, the opposition Labour Party is not appeased.
“All the Chancellor’s statement underlines is that the damage has been done,” lawmaker Rachel Reeves tweets.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman announces her departure from Truss’ Cabinet, as claims emerge of chaos and “bullying” during a parliamentary vote the same day.
Braverman says she stepped down as Home Secretary over the use of a personal email address that violated ministerial rules, but also launches a thinly veiled criticism of Truss’ leadership in her resignation letter.
“The business of government relies upon people accepting responsibility for their mistakes. 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 writes.
Allegations also emerge on Wednesday of some ruling Conservative Party lawmakers being physically dragged to vote with the government against the ban on fracking for shale gas.
Politicians later share accounts on Twitter of angry scenes of shouting and altercation in parliament.
After a chaotic six-week spell in Downing Street, Truss announces her resignation.
“I recognize though given the situation I cannot deliver the mandate on which I was elected by the Conservative Party,” she says.
Truss says she has tendered her resignation to the King, and a leadership election will take place within a week. She will remain UK prime minister until her successor is chosen.
Her swift exit as prime minister prompts calls for an early general election in Britain.
“After 12 years of Tory failure, the British people deserve so much better than this revolving door of chaos,” Labour leader Keir Starmer says after Truss announces she will resign. “We need a general election, now.”
But a fresh election is no certainty before 2025, even as Britain prepares for its fifth leader in just over six years – and its third since the last ballot.