Truss faces tough PMQs after junking economic strategy

The Prime Minister faces a backlash over suggestions she could ditch the pensions triple lock.

18 October 2022

Liz Truss faces a humiliating clash with Sir Keir Starmer on Wednesday, having been forced to junk her entire economic strategy and with her leadership in peril.

She will square off against the Labour leader in Prime Minister’s Questions for the first time since her new Chancellor Jeremy Hunt ripped up her plan for tax cuts and increased public borrowing in a bid to reassure markets in the wake of the mini-budget turmoil.

It could come amid more gloomy economic news, with economists predicting that Office for National Statistics data will reveal inflation returned to double-figures in September.

The Prime Minister faces disquiet from Tory MPs over plans for public spending cuts across all departments, after Mr Hunt warned of decisions of “eye-watering difficulty” to plug the Government’s multibillion-pound financial black hole.

He is considering postponing by a year the cap on the sum people pay for care in old age, The Times reported.

Treasury sources did not deny the policy could be delayed, pointing to the Chancellor’s statement that “nothing is off the table”.

An admission from Downing Street that Ms Truss could ditch the key manifesto commitment to increase state pensions in line with inflation sparked a swift backlash.

Her official spokesperson said she is “not making any commitments on individual policy areas” ahead of the Chancellor’s fiscal plan on October 31.

Tory backbencher Maria Caulfield said she “will not be voting to end the pensions triple lock”, with former minister Steve Double joining her in saying: “Nor me.”

Stephen Crabb, the former work and pensions secretary, told the Telegraph it is “not the time to consider abandoning the triple lock” and that “maintaining the value of the state pension during the cost-of-living crisis is essential”.

However, the Prime Minister reiterated her pledge to boost defence spending after the armed forces minister publicly threatened to resign if it was broken.

She said she stood by her promise in a meeting with Tory MPs from the European Research Group (ERG) – one in a series of gatherings aimed at shoring up her ailing position.

ERG chairman Mark Francois described the meeting on Tuesday evening as “positive”, and said: “We were delighted to hear her make an unequivocal commitment to spending 3% of GDP on defence by the end of the decade.”

The Prime Minister also told the group that she found axing her tax-slashing programme “painful” and did it “because she had to”, according to her deputy press secretary.

After Ms Truss later hosted a reception for a selection of Tory backbenchers in Downing Street, one of the attendees said her position remains “precarious”.

Clacton MP Giles Watling told BBC Newsnight: “Of course it’s precarious, she knows that, we all know that.”

Former Cabinet minister Michael Gove said it was a matter of time before Ms Truss is ousted as Prime Minister as he warned Britons to expect “a hell of a lot of pain in the next two months”.

Asked at a private event on Tuesday whether it was no longer a question of whether Ms Truss goes, but when, Mr Gove agreed that was “absolutely right”, the Guardian reported.

But Welsh Secretary Sir Robert Buckland warned colleagues considering removing Ms Truss to “be careful what you wish for”.

“The more the Conservative Party change leaders, the stronger the case for a general election becomes,” the Cabinet minister told BBC Newsnight.

“I say to my colleagues, be careful what you wish for. An early election serves nobody any good, not least the Conservative Party and certainly not the country.”

A meeting between Mr Hunt, who is widely seen as effectively in control, and Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the powerful 1922 Committee of backbenchers, likely fuelled further questions about the Prime Minister’s future.

Treasury sources said it was a briefing ahead of Mr Hunt’s 1922 appearance on Wednesday, but it is likely that Ms Truss’s imperilled premiership came up.

One of the factors keeping Ms Truss in office, despite being forced to abandon the economic platform that got her elected as party leader, is the lack of an obvious successor.

Conservative MPs are reluctant to have another leadership contest involving the party membership, which could take months and further damage the party.

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