Liz Truss will become the next prime minister of Britain, taking over from Boris Johnson at a time of economic and political upheaval in the United Kingdom.
She wasn’t the top choice of Conservative Party lawmakers, and a majority of Brits tell pollsters she will be a “poor” or “terrible” prime minister, but Truss was the favorite among the Tory activists who selected the leader of their party and Britain in a vote announced Monday.
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Truss, Britain’s foreign secretary, won the support of her party’s grass roots with promises of tax cuts and with her loyalty to Prime Minister Boris Johnson — who was booted from Downing Street by Conservative lawmakers but is already missed by rank-and-file party members.
Challenger Rishi Sunak — though the preferred choice among Conservative members of Parliament — had a tough time convincing his party’s voters that tackling inflation should come before tax cuts. And Sunak’s leading role in Johnson’s ouster seemed to hurt him with the grass roots. Angry Tories called him a “Brutus.”
It was Sunak’s fiery departure as Chancellor of the Exchequer, or finance minister, in July that launched the revolt against Johnson. An avalanche of resignations followed. Conservative Party lawmakers said they could no longer trust a prime minister who prevaricated his way through scandal after scandal (and could no longer be counted on to help win elections).
Because this was not a general election, most of Britain was sitting on the sidelines while a “selectorate” of 150,000 to 200,000 dues-paying Conservative Party members — about 0.3 percent of the population — determined the country’s political future.
According to a YouGov poll, 12 percent of the general public say Truss will be a good or great prime minister compared with 52 percent who say she will be poor or terrible.
It’s hard to know what to expect because Truss, 47, is a shapeshifting politician. She was a centrist Liberal Democrat in her youth before joining the Conservative Party, she argued for abolishing the monarchy before affirming her support for it, and she voted for Britain to remain in the European Union before becoming a hardcore Brexiteer.
As foreign secretary, she was a reliable NATO ally and Ukraine supporter, talking tough on Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin. She led the charge on sanctioning oligarchs — many who had been living the high life in London.
But E.U. leaders see her as an agitator, an anti-Europe opportunist who could make matters even worse in the rocky post-divorce relationship between Britain and the 27-nation bloc.
In addition to the war in Ukraine and the fallout of Brexit, the new prime minister will inherit a vast range of economic and political problems, including high energy prices, soaring inflation and a looming recession.
The announcement of the Conservative Party leader will be followed with Britain’s version of Inauguration Day on Tuesday.
Johnson and his successor will travel to Balmoral Castle in Scotland, where Queen Elizabeth II is staying.
In a private audience, Johnson will bow to the queen and tender his resignation. Soon after, in a ceremony known as “kissing hands,” his successor will bow or curtsy and ask the queen for permission to form a new government.
The new prime minister would be expected to address the British public back in London later in the day.
This will be the 96-year-old queen’s 15th prime minister.
Truss will be Britain’s third female prime minister — following Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May. And the United Kingdom will join a small club of countries that has had at least three female heads of government.
In Britain’s case, all of its female leaders have come from the Conservative Party, even though the Tories have fewer female lawmakers than do the other main political parties.
Truss has ruled out calling a general election to cement her mandate from the British public — as opposed to just Tory party activists, who represent a tiny sliver of the population.
Johnson won a big majority in a general election in December 2019, six months after being installed as party leader. His predecessor, May, also called an early election, which lost her a parliamentary majority.
In one of his final acts as prime minister, Johnson flew in a Typhoon fighter jet and proclaimed that after “three happy years in the cockpit,” he was happy to hand over the “controls seamlessly to someone else.”
Many say Johnson will attempt a comeback.
Truss won 81,326 votes compared to Sunak’s share of 60,399 votes.
Turnout was pretty high too, with 82.6% of members casting a vote, with 654 rejected, possibly spoiled or filled out incorrectly.
For comparison, Boris Johnson won 66.4% of the vote in 2019, David Cameron 67.6% in 2005 and Iain Duncan Smith 60.7% in 2001. Washington Post/BBC