Rishi Sunak’s warnings about Truss’ economic plans were largely right. But he still has enemies

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Rishi Sunak’s warnings about Truss’ economic plans were largely right. But he still has enemies
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Lawmakers in her Conservative Party are plotting to oust her, and on Tuesday, she appeared to lose the backing of two key Tory-leaning newspapers.

Why — and how — is Truss still in 10 Downing Street?

The primary reason is that as of now, Tory MPs are utterly divided over who should take over. As one MP put it, there is no credible succession plan. It’s a similar dynamic to her predecessor, Boris Johnson, who lasted long past the point where there appeared to be a majority consensus he should go.

When Johnson finally resigned in July, there was still no agreement and the party is now desperate to avoid another bitter, protracted leadership contest like the one that followed his resignation. Some MPs are prepared to move against Truss if there is a coronation of an unopposed successor.

British Prime Minister Liz Truss has seen her poll numbers plummet to record depths. (Reuters)

But the likeliest candidates face major obstacles. Take former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, whose dire warnings about Truss’s economic plans have been largely borne out. That gives Sunak credibility with markets.

No Tory unity

Yet he has large numbers of enemies in the Tory party. There are about 100 MPs on the ideological right of the party — including ardent Brexiteers and supporters of Johnson — who are determined to prevent a Sunak premiership.

They see Sunak as the face of the type of Treasury orthodoxy they had backed Truss to reject, and also blame him for triggering Johnson’s downfall. One minister warned that opting for Sunak would lead to even more Tory infighting.

There had been suggestions that Sunak could team up with another hopeful, Penny Mordaunt, on a joint unity ticket. But a person familiar with the matter said Sunak rejected an approach from a senior MP who claimed to be acting on Mordaunt’s behalf.

Some Tory MPs believe Mordaunt wants the top job for herself and would not agree to a coronation for another candidate. This poses another problem: both Sunak and Mordaunt would derive most of their support from centrist MPs — the so-called One Nation Group — leaving that caucus fractured. It is possible that, if it came to a choice between them, Mordaunt could command more support from the right of the party than Sunak.

Blocking Sunak, Mordaunt

An MP on the right of the party said they are backing “ABSOM” — Anyone But Sunak Or Mordaunt.

Could another candidate emerge from the party center?

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has won respect for his handling of the Russia-Ukraine war. But he has suggested he is not interested in the job.

New finance minister of Britain Jerry Hunt. (Reuters/file)

Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt is seen as a contender, given he is now de facto in charge of the government. But he told Sky News late Monday he had ruled out ever becoming prime minister for family reasons. He is also deeply unpopular with right-wing Tory MPs who loathed his pro-lockdown stance during the pandemic.

Grant Shapps, the former transport secretary who keeps a spreadsheet of where Tory MPs stand on the leadership question, is well-connected and a formidable operator. Yet so far he has remained relatively out of the spotlight, and there is little clamor for him to take over.

It is also unlikely that the Brexiteer right will go down without a fight. Home Secretary Suella Braverman is described by colleagues as eyeing Truss’s job, but she is hardly a unity choice. There is little indication that a Johnson return is on the cards, despite lobbying from his chief supporter, Nadine Dorries.

No easy fix

Even if the party can agree on who should succeed Truss, there is also no obvious mechanism for how it can happen.

According to a person familiar with the matter, it would take about two-thirds of Tory MPs to demand a change of leader for the influential 1922 Committee — which sets rules on such matters — to void the 12-month protection from challenge Truss, in theory, enjoys after taking office.

If that threshold is met — or even a lower but significant number of Tory MPs make the call — emergency rules could be drawn up to allow a rapid vote by MPs on replacing Truss. There is no appetite in the parliamentary party for grassroots members, who backed Truss in the summer, to get the final say this time.

Things can move quickly, though the signs are the party is still some way from this happening. One minister said it’s more likely the pressure on Truss becomes unbearable as the scale of opposition becomes clear, and she resigns of her own volition. Allies of Truss, however, insist she will not.

Stuck in something of a holding pattern, Tory MPs are waiting for a future trigger — perhaps more market turmoil, a scandal, a potential softening of the government’s position on Brexit, or Cabinet resignations — to force a change.

But a veteran Tory warned the prospects of a neat outcome were remote. This party is simply ungovernable, they said.





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