Truss on the brink following 24 hours of chaos
Liz Truss is battling to contain the fallout from a calamitous 24 hours for her premiership which saw a Cabinet minister resign and an open revolt in the Commons.
Tory MPs are wondering how long the Prime Minister can go on following the chaotic events, but a Cabinet ally said “at the moment” Ms Truss will still lead the party into the next election.
Transport Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan said the Government is seeking to provide stability and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt should be given the time to set out his financial plans at the end of October.
But a senior MP said Ms Truss has just hours to turn the situation around following the chaos in Parliament on Wednesday.
Ms Trevelyan said she believes “at the moment” it is “still the case” that Ms Truss will fight the next election as Prime Minister.
On Times Radio, Ms Trevelyan said: “I’m looking forward to Jeremy Hunt delivering his statement at the end of the month, and to help us all to be able to get on with delivering our departmental budgets.”
But senior backbencher Simon Hoare, chairman of the Commons Northern Ireland Committee, was unable to say whether the country has a functioning Government.
“I think it has a Government that wants to function,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, but it is engaged in daily “hand-to-hand fighting”.
Asked if Ms Truss is “up to the job”, he said: “I think she could be. I think it’s… one can’t say hand on heart today that there is a… if this was a career review, an employer sitting in front of a person looking at performance and outcomes etc, then the score sheet isn’t looking very good.
“But I’m a glass-half-full sort of person. Can the ship be turned around? Yes. But I think there’s about 12 hours to do it.
“I think today and tomorrow are crunch days.”
Veteran Tory Sir Gary Streeter publicly called for Ms Truss to go, saying on Twitter: “Sadly, it seems we must change leader BUT even if the angel Gabriel now takes over, the Parliamentary Party has to urgently rediscover discipline, mutual respect and teamwork if we are to (i) govern the UK well and (ii) avoid slaughter at the next election.”
The events of Wednesday saw Suella Braverman lash out at Ms Truss’s “tumultuous” premiership as she resigned and accused the Government of “breaking key pledges” including on immigration policy.
Her departure, coming just five days after Kwasi Kwarteng’s sacking as chancellor, means the Prime Minister has lost two people from the four great offices of state within her first six weeks in No 10, with all eyes on whether other Cabinet ministers could follow suit.
The exodus appeared to continue with speculation that Chief Whip Wendy Morton and her deputy, Craig Whittaker, had resigned in fury at the handling of a vote on a Labour motion over fracking.
At 9.49pm – more than two hours after the vote – No 10 issued a statement saying both remained in post.
In an extraordinary further update at 1.33am, Downing Street said the Prime Minister has “full confidence” in both of them.
It came after climate minister Graham Stuart told the Commons minutes before the vote that “quite clearly this is not a confidence vote”, despite Mr Whittaker earlier issuing a “100% hard” three-line whip, meaning any Tory MP who rebelled could be thrown out of the parliamentary party.
No 10 later said Mr Stuart had been “mistakenly” told by Downing Street to say the vote should not be treated as a confidence motion, and that Conservative MPs were “fully aware” it was subject to a three-line whip.
A spokesman said the whips would be speaking to the Tories who failed to support the Government, and those without a “reasonable excuse” would face “proportionate disciplinary action” – although that does not necessarily mean whey would have the whip removed.
The confusion led to ugly scenes at Westminster, with Cabinet ministers Therese Coffey and Jacob Rees-Mogg among a group of senior Tories accused of pressuring colleagues to go into the “no” lobby, with Labour former minister Chris Bryant saying some MPs were “physically manhandled into another lobby and being bullied”.
Business Secretary Mr Rees-Mogg insisted he had seen no evidence of anyone being manhandled, but senior Tory MP Sir Charles Walker said what took place was “inexcusable” and “a pitiful reflection on the Conservative Parliamentary Party”.
Labour’s fracking ban motion was defeated by 230 votes to 326, with the division list showing around 40 Conservative MPs did not vote, although many of them would have had permission to be absent.
Ms Trevelyan said it is “never acceptable” for MPs to be “manhandled” into voting, adding she was “shocked” by reports from the Commons on Wednesday night.
Ms Trevelyan said she “wasn’t there”, as she had voted earlier, but told Sky News: “I don’t think it’s ever acceptable for any party – and we have seen this happen before, where whips perhaps over-egg their encouragement to get people to vote in the appropriate way – that is never right.
“The one thing that our Parliament is so revered around the world for is that we allow each of us to vote with our conscience, and indeed with our Government on important matters.”
Asked if she was embarrassed by the events of Wednesday evening, she said: “I am shocked to hear the descriptions of what went on.”
She said Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle would be investigating “to ensure that these scenes and indeed these situations do not happen again”.
In a sign of the growing pressure on Ms Truss, Tory former Brexit minister Lord Frost joined calls for her to step down.
“The Government is implementing neither the programme Liz Truss originally advocated nor the 2019 manifesto. It is going in a completely different direction,” the Conservative peer, who backed Ms Truss to be Prime Minister, wrote in The Telegraph.
“There is no shred of a mandate for this. It’s only happening because the Truss Government messed things up more badly than anyone could have imagined… Something has to give.”
There is speculation that the chairman of the Tory backbench 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady, has already received more than 54 letters calling for a confidence vote in the Prime Minister, the threshold for triggering one if Ms Truss was not in the 12 months’ grace period for new leaders.
Northern Ireland minister Steve Baker told ITV’s Peston: “The Prime Minister cannot be removed; whether she goes or not is up to her.”
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