Truss struggles to salvage job
The prime minister’s in charge, says new chancellor
Published: Oct 16, 2022 11:32 PM
Britain's Prime Minister Liz Truss insisted on her commitment to economic discipline but Conservative critics stepped up warnings on Sunday that the party faces electoral oblivion under her crippled leadership.

With even US President Joe Biden joining in attacks on her libertarian platform, Truss admitted it had been a "wrench" to fire her friend Kwasi Kwarteng as chancellor of the exchequer on Friday.

But writing in The Sun newspaper on Sunday, she said, "We cannot pave the way to a low-tax, high-growth economy without maintaining the confidence of the markets in our commitment to sound money." 

That confidence was jeopardized on September 23 when Kwarteng and Truss unveiled a right-wing program, inspired by 1980s US president Ronald Reagan, of 45 billion pounds ($50 billion) in tax cuts financed exclusively by higher debt.

Markets tanked in response, driving up borrowing costs for millions of Britons, and the Conservatives' poll ratings have similarly slumped, leading to open warfare in the governing party mere weeks after Truss succeeded Boris Johnson.

She has been forced into a screeching policy U-turn, but depressed the markets even more with a painful press conference on Friday.

Kwarteng's replacement Jeremy Hunt is now warning that taxes may in fact have to rise, while pressing for spending restraint by his cabinet colleagues even as Britons endure a cost of living crisis.

The new chancellor met Truss at the prime minister's country retreat on Sunday to thrash out a new budget plan which he is due to deliver on October 31, effectively demolishing the program that brought her to power.

"It's going to be very, very difficult, and I think we have to be honest with people about that," Hunt said in a BBC television interview.

Hunt defended Truss. "She's been willing to do that most difficult of things in politics, and that is to change tack," he said. "The prime minister's in charge." 

But many questioned that verdict. "Truss has become a pointless prime minister - an empty vessel with no policies or power," The Sunday Times said.

The Treasury declined to confirm reports that Hunt plans to delay a planned cut to the basic rate of income tax, removing yet another headline measure announced by the new government last month.