Liz Truss is still in charge, insists new Chancellor

Jeremy Hunt said voters can still put their faith in the Prime Minister.

16 October 2022

Jeremy Hunt insisted on Sunday that Liz Truss is still in charge of her Government, as he signalled plans to effectively scrap the economic vision that brought her to power.

The new Chancellor, brought in to replace the sacked Kwasi Kwarteng and restore credibility to Downing Street, is now widely seen as the most powerful figure in Government as he attempts to re-shape the Prime Minister’s own economic plans to reassure the markets.

He told the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme that Ms Truss remains “in charge” and insisted voters can still put their faith in her.

“She’s listened. She’s changed. She’s been willing to do that most difficult thing in politics, which is to change tack,” he said.

“What we’re going to do is to show not just what we want but how we’re going to get there.”

Kwasi Kwarteng resignation
New Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is now widely seen as the most powerful figure in Government (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

It comes ahead of a crunch two weeks for the Government, as Mr Hunt bids to put together a new fiscal plan – effectively a full Budget – that can restore some order to the chaos of Ms Truss’s first few weeks in office.

While the new Chancellor warned of “difficult decisions” and fresh “efficiency savings” for all departments, he declined to get into specifics about potential new cuts or what promises could be axed in a bid to save money.

He told the BBC: “I’m not taking anything off the table. I want to keep as many of those tax cuts as I possibly can because our long-term health depends on being a low-tax economy. And I very strongly believe that.”

One measure being considered is a delay to Mr Kwarteng’s aim of reducing the basic rate of income tax by a year, according to the Sunday Times.

Ms Truss was meeting Mr Hunt at Chequers on Sunday, as rumours continue to swirl of plots to oust the Prime Minister.

Tory MP Robert Halfon, chairman of the Commons Education Committee, did little to quash those rumours during an appearance on Sky News, when he declined to deny that MPs are considering installing a new leader.

“Of course, colleagues are unhappy with what is going on,” he said.

“We’re all talking to see what can be done about it.”

While he stopped short of calling for the Prime Minister to go just yet, he did launch an extraordinary attack on the Government and the guiding philosophy of the mini-budget.

“I worry that, over the past few weeks, the Government has looked like libertarian jihadists and treated the whole country as kind of laboratory mice on which to carry out ultra, ultra free market experiments. And this is not where the country is.

“There’s been one horror story after another.”

In an unusual intervention, US President Joe Biden also appeared to join in the criticism of Ms Truss’s plan, telling reporters: “I wasn’t the only one that thought it was a mistake,” and calling the outcome “predictable”.

Asked about her original economic strategy, he added that, while he disagreed with her plan, it is up to the British people.

Mr Biden also dismissed concerns about the strength of the dollar: “The problem is the lack of economic growth and sound policy in other countries.”

As political and economic circles in the UK and beyond size up the new Chancellor, Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey said he spoke to Mr Hunt after his appointment on Friday.

Speaking from Washington, he said the pair had a “meeting of minds” on the issue of “fiscal sustainability” as he noted that the Office for Budget Responsibility is now “very much back in the picture”.

But he also warned that interest rates may have to be raised higher than initially expected to tackle inflation.

Kwasi Kwarteng resignation
Jeremy Hunt will meet Liz Truss at Chequers on Sunday (Aaron Chown/PA)

Questions also remain over whether the Government will be able to win enough support from a divided party for a series of painful decisions on tax and spending that have already prompted memories of the austerity era under David Cameron and George Osborne.

Ms Truss, who used a piece in The Sun newspaper to admit that sacking her friend and ideological soulmate Mr Kwarteng had been a “wrench”, said: “We cannot pave the way to a low-tax, high-growth economy without maintaining the confidence of the markets in our commitment to sound money.”

Elsewhere, there was speculation that including the Ministry of Defence in any round of spending cuts could spark a clash with Ben Wallace.

A defence source said the Defence Secretary will hold the Prime Minister to pledges made.

Kwasi Kwarteng resignation
Prime Minister Liz Truss is clinging on to power after a disastrous few days (Daniel Leal/PA)

Ms Truss promised to increase defence spending to 3% of GDP by 2030 in the wake of the war in Ukraine.

Nonetheless she still has her defenders within the party.

Former culture minister Nadine Dorries, a loyal follower of Boris Johnson, wrote in the Daily Express: “The sad truth is that those scheming to eject the Prime Minister from Downing Street are the same plotters who conspired to get rid of Boris. They will not rest until they have anointed their own chosen leader in power.”

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