LONDON — Struggling British prime minister Liz Truss lost the second of her key cabinet officials on Wednesday as Home Secretary Suella Braverman resigned and expressed “concerns about the direction of this government.”
Truss and her government are producing more head-spinning headlines than Boris Johnson, who was ousted by his party a few months ago after a string of scandals.
In her resignation letter, Braverman emphasized that she was “choosing” to go — suggesting she was not sacked as finance minister Kwasi Kwarteng was last week.
As rationale, she said she had mistakenly violated the rules by sending an official document to a lawmaker from her personal email. She made what could be read as an implicit criticism of the prime minister, writing that “the business of government relies upon people accepting responsibility for their mistakes” and that “pretending we haven’t made mistakes, carrying on as if everyone can’t see we have made them and hoping that things will magically come right is not serious politics.”
Then she took the opportunity to overtly bash Truss’s government.
“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 boats crossings,” she wrote.
Braverman had been pushing for the government to deport immigrants who enter Britain illegally to Rwanda — a plan that has run into a legal wall. This week she had gotten attention for blaming disruptive climate protests on “Guardian-reading tofu-eating wokerati.”
Chris Bryant, a Labour lawmaker, celebrated the resignation with a tweet: “Tofu 1: Braverman 0.”
In her brief tenure as home secretary, Braverman held one of the four “great offices of state,” the most senior posts in government. When Truss named her cabinet just six weeks ago, it was celebrated as the first in which no White man held one of Britain’s four top seats of political power.
But since then, Kwarteng has been replaced by a White male Tory: Jeremy Hunt.
And on Wednesday, the prime minister announced that Braverman would be replaced by another prominent White male: Grant Shapps.
Among the original four, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly is still hanging on the job. He came to the defense of the prime minister in an interview with Sky News, saying that “going through another leadership campaign, defenestrating another prime minister,” won’t “convince the British people that we are thinking about them rather than ourselves” or “convince the market to stay calm.”
“Being angry, I get — I totally get it,” he added. “But that’s an emotional response, not a plan.”
Truss, though, is in trouble.
To Parliament on Wednesday, she offered an apology — of sorts — as she came under criticism for first proposing big tax cuts and then reversing herself after her policies sent financial markets reeling.
“I’ve been very clear that I am sorry and I have made mistakes,” she told lawmakers in the House of Commons — where opposition members accused the new prime minister of governing with no viable plan and no mandate and where some of her own party’s members, too, have threatened to revolt.
As Truss struggles, so does the British economy. Just a few hours before she appeared in Parliament, the government reported that inflation increased to 10.1 percent in September compared with prices last year. The higher cost of food was driving the spike.
The economy was in bad shape before Truss became leader — though she arguably has made things worse. Energy costs are soaring, in part because of Russia’s war in Ukraine; the British pound is taking a beating; and the Bank of England has warned that a recession is likely before year’s end.
In her remarks, Truss blamed global head winds for the woes and not her bungled plan for economic growth, which envisioned tax cuts for the well-to-do and corporations, paid for by deep borrowing and more debt.
Her appearance at Prime Minister’s Questions, or PMQs — only her third since becoming leader of the country six weeks ago — found Truss mostly on the defensive. She lashed out at the opposition parties. But the opposition has not run Britain for the past 12 years. Her Conservative Party has.
Labour Party leader Keir Starmer asked Truss, “What is the point of a prime minister whose promises don’t even last a week?”
Starmer said that Truss’s now-defeated economic plan had sent adjustable mortgage rates soaring for homeowners and charged that she had “trashed” the British economy.
“How can she be held to account when she is not in charge?” Starmer asked, referring to how her new finance chief, Hunt, had presented an entirely new government policy this week. Some politicians and British media outlets have referred to Hunt as the “de facto prime minister.”
“I have acted in the national interest to make sure we have economic stability,” Truss retorted.
Reviews from the public have been brutal. One poll from YouGov found that only 10 percent of voters have a favorable view of Truss, making her the most unpopular prime minister the organization has ever tracked. Another survey found that most Conservative Party members — the small section of the population that voted her into office — would now like to see her resign.
If Truss stays in office, it may be less because she is a fighter than because Conservative Party lawmakers — who would have to pressure or vote her out — are divided over who might replace her.
Things have become so fraught that Conservative Party lawmaker Bob Seely felt the need to apologize for his government’s behavior during an interview with LBC Radio. “I actually want to apologize. I really am getting fed up with this soap drama as much as your listeners are,” he said. “I’m frankly as bemused as everybody else is, and I’m really unhappy with the situation.”
Some lawmakers reported that the Conservative Party’s war with itself was on display Wednesday in the House of Commons lobby, ahead of a late-night vote on fracking that was initially billed as a vote of confidence in the government.
“I’ve never seen scenes like it at the entrance to a voting lobby,” tweeted Labour lawmaker Ian Murray. “… Two Tory whips dragging people in. Shocking.”
Senior Tory Jacob Rees-Mogg told Sky News that “to characterize it as bullying is a mistake.”