Liz Truss’s premiership is hanging by a thread after an extraordinary day in Westminster that saw a cabinet minister resign and a Commons motion descend into chaos with allegations of “manhandling and bullying”.
The unprecedented events have led to some Tory MPs declaring the Conservative party is “finished”, with one hitting out at the “talentless people” who backed Ms Truss “for a seat around the cabinet table”.
The prime minister is staring down the barrel after the now former home secretary Suella Braverman resigned over sending an official document from her personal email – and took aim at the PM on the way out.
“I have made a mistake; I accept responsibility; I resign,” she wrote in an barely-coded dig at Ms Truss, whose disastrous mini-budget sparked financial turmoil.
Ms Braverman, a popular figure on the Tory right, voiced “concerns about the direction of this government” , accusing it of breaking manifesto pledges and adding: “It is obvious to everyone that we are going through a tumultuous time.”
The departure has further imperilled the embattled PM’s grip on power following the sacking of chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng last Friday and the axing of the majority of the government’s economic policies on Monday by new chancellor Jeremy Hunt.
‘Something has to give’
Lord Frost, former Brexit minister, joined calls for Ms Truss to resign, saying “there is no shred of a mandate” for what she is doing.
“As Suella Braverman made so clear this afternoon, the government is implementing neither the programme Liz Truss originally advocated nor the 2019 manifesto,” he 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, and enabled a hostile takeover by its opponents. Something has to give.”
Ms Truss’s authority took a further knock on Wednesday amid claims Conservative MPs were being “bullied and manhandled” into voting with the government to oppose a ban on fracking, counter to what their party manifesto said in 2019.
Several MPs described scenes of chaos in the voting lobby, with Labour’s Jess Philips describing a “massive row” and others saying they witnessed Tory whips “screaming” and MPs “crying”.
The drama was sparked after climate minister Graham Stuart told the Commons minutes before the Labour motion that “quite clearly this is not a confidence vote” – despite Conservative deputy chief whip Craig Whittaker earlier issuing a “100% hard” three-line whip, meaning any Tory MP that rebelled could be thrown out of the parliamentary party.
Widespread reporting followed that Chief Whip Wendy Morton, having been undermined, quit her government post as MPs were filing through the voting lobbies, with Mr Whittaker following her out the door.
After hours of confusion over whether they had gone Downing Street said both “remain in post”.
Cabinet ministers Therese Coffey and Jacob Rees-Mogg were among a group of senior Tories accused of pressuring colleagues to go into the “no” lobby, with Labour former minister Chris Bryant telling Sky News some MPs had been “physically manhandled into another lobby and being bullied”.
Mr Rees-Mogg, the business secretary, insisted he had seen no evidence of anyone being manhandled while a source close to Ms Coffey, the health secretary and deputy PM, said she has “not manhandled anybody”.
But senior Tory MP Sir Charles Walker said what took place was “inexcusable” and “a pitiful reflection on the Conservative Parliamentary Party”.
‘No way back for Conservative party’
Asked if there was any way back for the Tories he said: “I don’t think so…but I’ve been of that view since two weeks ago.”
Appearing visibly shaken and emotional, he hit out at those in his party who voted for the new prime minister:
“All those people who put Liz Truss in No 10, I hope it was worth it.
“I hope it was worth it for the ministerial red box, I hope it was worth it to sit around the cabinet table.
“Because the damage they have done to our party was extraordinary.”
Speaking to the BBC he added: “I have had enough of talentless people putting their tick in the right box, not because it’s in the national interest but because it’s in their own personal interest to achieve ministerial position.
“I know I speak for hundreds of backbenchers who are worrying for their constituents all the time but are now worrying for their own personal circumstances because there is nothing as ex as an ex-MP.”
‘We are all Charles Walker’
In response, Conservative MP Maria Caulfield said: “Tonight we are all Charles Walker.”
And former minister Johnny Mercer said, alongside an expletive, that Mr Walker had “nailed it”.
The prime minister is likely to face another bruising day on Thursday, when Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer will accuse her of “insulting” British workers while pledging his government will repeal any new Conservative legislation restricting the right to strike.
Emboldened by a huge surge in the polls, he will tell the TUC conference: “We will meet their attacks with hope, provide the leadership this country so desperately needs and build a Britain where working people can succeed again, where working people are backed as the people who really create economic growth.
“That’s the Labour choice.”