British Prime Minister Liz Truss has described herself as “a fighter and not a quitter” as she faces down a hostile opposition and fury from her own Conservative Party over her botched economic plan.
Truss on Wednesday attended her first session of Prime Minister’s Questions since newly appointed chancellor Jeremy Hunt ripped up the tax-cutting package unveiled by her new government less than a month ago. She apologised to parliament and admitted she made mistakes during her short tenure as the United Kingdom’s head of government.
Some politicians shouted “Resign!” as she spoke.
Asked by the opposition Labour Party’s leader, Keir Starmer, “Why is she still here?” Truss retorted: “I am a fighter and not a quitter. I have acted in the national interest to make sure that we have economic stability.”
A package of unfunded tax cuts Truss’s government announced on September 23 sparked turmoil in financial markets, hammered the value of the pound and increased the cost of UK government borrowing. The Bank of England was forced to intervene to prevent the crisis from spreading to the wider economy and putting pensions at risk.
Under intense political and economic pressure, Truss last week fired her ally Kwasi Kwarteng as finance minister, replacing him with Cabinet veteran Hunt. On Monday, Hunt scrapped almost all of Truss’s tax cuts, along with her flagship energy policy and her promise of no public spending cuts.
He said the government will need to save billions of pounds and there are “many difficult decisions” to be made before he sets out a medium-term fiscal plan on October 31. Foreign secretary James Cleverly urged Conservatives to give Truss another chance, saying “mistakes happen”. “What you’ve got to do is recognise when they’ve happened and have humility to make changes when you see things didn’t go right,” he said.
Also on Wednesday, Truss told the parliament she was committed to increasing state pensions in line with the level of inflation, but she declined to give the same reassurance for welfare payments and foreign aid.
Asked if Truss had ditched the policy, known as the triple lock because it increases publicly funded pensions by the highest of earnings, inflation or 2.5 percent, she told the House of Commons she remained fully committed to it. “We have been clear in our manifesto that we will maintain the triple lock, and I am completely committed to it, so is the chancellor (finance minister),” she told politicians.
Asked if the same reassurance could be given for welfare benefit payments, Truss said the country had helped the poorest by providing energy subsidies and that it would always help the most vulnerable. Asked about the country’s foreign aid budget, Truss said more details would be set out in due course. Britain cut a longstanding policy of spending 0.7 percent of economic output on foreign aid during the pandemic, reducing it to 0.5 percent.
Truss faces another test in parliament later when MPs vote on an opposition Labour Party motion seeking to ban fracking for shale gas – a policy Truss recently greenlit. Conservative Party whips said the vote would be treated as “a confidence motion in the government”, meaning the government would fall if the motion passed. The Conservatives’ 70-plus majority makes that unlikely, but the vote will be closely watched for signs of dissent about Truss’s leadership. Under Conservative Party rules, Truss is safe from a leadership challenge for a year, but the rules can be changed if enough members of parliament want it.