British PM faces fresh political woes after meeting with MPs

LONDON – Embattled British Prime Minister Liz Truss (picture) faced fresh woes on Thursday after a prominent Conservative party insider said some of her own MPs were considering pushing for two of her former rivals to replace her.

“All sorts of different people are talking about all sorts of different things because the Conservative backbenchers are casting around for a possible replacement for (finance minister) Kwasi Kwarteng, even for a possible replacement for Liz Truss,” Paul Goodman told the BBC.

The former Tory MP, who is editor of the influential ConservativeHome blog, said that less than 40 days into her premiership “all sorts of names are being thrown about” to replace the beleaguered leader.

They included former finance minister Rishi Sunak, who stood against Truss for the leadership of the Tory Party and “even Boris Johnson”, who she replaced as premier and party leader early last month.

“One idea doing the rounds is that Penny Mordaunt and Rishi Sunak, who, after all, between them got pretty much two-thirds of the votes of MPs (in the leadership contest), come to some kind of arrangement and essentially take over.”

Mordaunt, a former defence minister, also stood against Truss, and is currently a member of her government.

Austerity fears

Truss on Wednesday appeared in parliament for the first time since her government’s controversial September 23 mini-budget prompted weeks of economic upheaval.

She told MPs she was “absolutely” committed to pledges made before she became leader to maintain current spending.

But with currency, bond and other markets spooked by the extra borrowing earmarked to pay for the mini-budget’s tax cuts, fears have grown that she will slash government department budgets, returning to the unpopular austerity policy of a decade ago.

Goodman, however, said he was “beginning to wonder whether or not ministers and Conservative MPs are capable of putting together a package of public spending cuts on the scale required”.

“And if they do, whether they’re going to be acceptable to the markets, or whether the markets are now going to demand the withdrawal, in effect, of the mini-budget, or most of it, that Kwasi Kwarteng announced only very recently.”

He said a small number of individual MPs had in recent days demanded government U-turns on Truss’s tax cutting policies.

“I don’t really know if they’re a majority or not, but if I’m right then we will see the government have great difficulty in getting this package of cuts together.”

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly on Thursday insisted the government would stick with Kwarteng’s mini-budget.

“It was about making sure that taxes for 30 million people were reduced a little bit and those are really strong principles. I think we should absolutely stick with those.

“All those things are really key for the growth agenda the prime minister has put forward,” he said.

His comments followed a meeting of Truss and members of her party on Wednesday.

Truss is the Conservative Party’s fourth leader in seven years.

Johnson was forced to quit in July after dozens of resignations from his government in protest at a series of scandals. – AFP