Liz Truss’s tenure as Britain’s shortest-serving prime minister came to an end Tuesday, after 49 days in office, and Rishi Sunak’s premiership begins, as he picks up responsibility for Britain’s battered economy and deeply divided politics.
Here’s how the day will unfold:
Truss held her last cabinet meeting and made a defiant final statement outside 10 Downing Street before she submitted her resignation to King Charles III.
Sunak will follow her to Buckingham Palace and ask permission to form a government in a ceremony known as “kissing hands.”
Sunak will return to Downing Street around 11:35 a.m. and deliver his first remarks as prime minister — as the first person of color and first Hindu to hold the role.
Expect a flurry of cabinet announcements as he seeks to form a government that can succeed where Truss failed.
Truss lost the top job after just 49 days in office after she tried to cut taxes for high-earners and corporations without a plan to pay for it.
Markets reeled, and she backpedaled, but she could not save her premiership.
The cameras crowded outside 10 Downing Street as Truss hosted a final cabinet meeting Tuesday morning and then made brief farewell remarks outside.
In a steady voice, Truss said she still believed in a high-wage, high-growth economy. “From my time as prime minister I am more convinced than ever that we need to be bold and confront the challenges we face.
As the Roman philosopher, Seneca, wrote, ‘it is not that things are difficult that we do not dare, it’s because we do not dare, that it is difficult.’” She stumbled somewhat over Seneca’s name.
“We need to take advantage of our Brexit freedoms to do things differently. This means delivering more freedom for our own citizens and restoring power for our democratic institutions,” she said.
“It means lower taxes so people can keep more of the money they earn. And it means delivering growth that will lead to more job security, higher wages, and more opportunities for our children and grandchildren,” Truss said.
Truss said Britain would continue to support Ukraine. She wished “every success” to her replacement. She closed, saying, “We continue to battle through a storm but I believe in Britain, I believe in the British people and I know that brighter days lie ahead.”
Then she was driven by motorcade to Buckingham Palace and resigned in person to the new king, Charles III. The incoming prime minister Sunak will follow — and Charles will ask him to form a new government. News helicopters will follow their journeys from overhead.
At 42-years-old, Sunak will be the youngest prime minister in modern British history, and the first Hindu and person of Indian origin to lead the country.
The race to replace Truss was wrapped up surprisingly fast — it was less than a week ago that she resigned. The former prime minister Boris Johnson and the leader of the House of Commons Penny Mordaunt dropped out of the contest after they failed to get enough backing from fellow lawmakers.
Reporters assume Johnson was watching the proceedings from home after his gambit to return to power failed. Tory grandee Iain Duncan Smith, a former leader of the Conservative Party himself, told LBC radio that Johnson found himself “struggling and begging people for votes. That was demeaning, really.”
The Financial Times, citing unnamed sources said that Johnson may seek to spend time in Washington ensuring that U.S. support for Ukraine remained strong.
Sunak’s appointment has so far calmed the markets but many will be watching for next week when the finance minister — whoever that may be — will lay out plans for how to balance the books after Truss’s plans were shredded even while she was in government.
Sunak is expected to name his top team later today. President Biden, who called Britain’s selection of its first non-white prime minister “a groundbreaking milestone,” said he looked forward to speaking with the new leader soon.
Sunak, a former finance minister and hedge-fund manager, comes to office with some of the harshest economic headwinds here in a generation, including some of his own creations. He will also seek to unite his warring and unpopular Conservative Party, whom he warned must “unite or die.”
In a brief televised address on Monday, his first as Conservative Party leader, Sunak paid tribute to the “dignity and grace” of Truss — whose six-week tenure was an unprecedented disaster — and warned that Britain faced a “profound economic challenge.” In those few words, the sunny forecasts of a post-Brexit “Global Britain,” previously sold by Sunak and his predecessors, began to be grounded in new realities.
Sunak vowed to serve with “integrity and humility” — qualities he suggested were lacking when he resigned from Boris Johnson’s government and led a revolt against his former boss. He called for “stability and unity” — in other words, the opposite of the tumult and divisions that characterized Truss’s tenure.
Opposition politicians don’t appear to be leaving much leeway for a honeymoon period and they continued their calls for a general election. Labour lawmaker Angela Rayner complained that Sunak’s accession was a coronation and that the Tories could not “keep doling out prime ministers every month.” Labour leader Keir Starmer charged that Sunak was “covered in the mess” that 12 years of Conservative rule had created.