British lawmaker Liz Truss speaks after winning the Conservative Party leadership contest at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in London, Sept 5, 2022. Truss will become Britain's new Prime Minister after an audience with Britain's Queen Elizabeth II on Tuesday. (FRANK AUGSTEIN / AP)
LONDON – Liz Truss will become Britain's next prime minister after winning a leadership race for the governing Conservative Party on Monday, vowing to press ahead with promised tax cuts and action to tackle a deepening energy and cost of living crisis.
After weeks of an often bad-tempered and divisive leadership contest, Truss, currently the foreign minister and the favorite to win, beat former finance minister Rishi Sunak in a vote of Conservative Party members, winning by 81,326 votes to 60,399.
"I will deliver a bold plan to cut taxes and grow our economy," Truss said after the result was announced. "I will deliver on the energy crisis, dealing with people's energy bills, but also dealing with the long-term issues we have on energy supply."
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Truss takes over as the country faces a crunch on household finances, industrial unrest, a recession and war in Europe, where Britain has been a leading backer of Ukraine. She appeared to rule out another national election before 2024, when she promised to deliver a great victory for her party.
It's right we now unite behind the new PM, Liz Truss, as she steers the country through difficult times.
Rishi Sunak, Former finance minister, Britain
But in a sign of deep divisions in her party, her winning margin was much narrower than had been expected and the narrowest in any Conservative leadership election held this century. Truss also won with the support of less than 50 percent of members, as almost one in five did not vote.
"It's right we now unite behind the new PM, Liz Truss, as she steers the country through difficult times," Sunak said on Twitter.
Truss will succeed Boris Johnson, who was forced to announce his resignation in July after months of scandals saw support for his administration drain away and ministers quit to force him out.
Johnson will travel to Scotland to meet Queen Elizabeth on Tuesday to officially tender his resignation. Truss will follow him and be asked to form a government by the monarch.
"I know she has the right plan to tackle the cost of living crisis, unite our party and continue the great work of uniting and leveling up our country," Johnson said on Twitter. "Now is the time for all Conservatives to get behind her 100 percent."
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Long the front-runner to replace him, Truss will become the Conservatives' fourth prime minister since a 2015 election. Since then Britain has stumbled from crisis to crisis, and now is seen facing a long recession and inflation that hit double digits in July.
Within minutes of her victory, business leaders from the hospitality sector to manufacturing and chemical industries demanded help with the soaring cost of energy and tight labor markets to stop firms going bust.
Long the front-runner in the race to replace Johnson, Truss will become the Conservatives' fourth prime minister since a 2015 election
Truss, 47, has promised to act quickly, saying within a week she will come up with a plan to tackle rising energy bills and secure future fuel supplies.
She signaled during her leadership campaign she would challenge convention by scrapping tax increases and cutting other levies in a move some economists say would further fuel inflation.
That, and a pledge to review the remit of the Bank of England while protecting its independence, has prompted some investors to dump the pound and government bonds.
Kwasi Kwarteng, widely tipped to be her finance minister, sought to calm markets on Monday, saying in a Financial Times article that while there would be "some fiscal loosening" under Truss, her administration would act in "a fiscally responsible way".
Asked if he would become finance minister, Kwarteng told Reuters he didn't know.
Truss faces a long, costly and challenging to-do list, which opposition parties say reflects 12 years of poor Conservative government. Several have called for an early election – something Truss has rejected.
Veteran Conservative lawmaker David Davis described challenges she faced as "probably the second most difficult brief of post-war prime ministers" after Conservative Margaret Thatcher in 1979.
A handout picture taken and released by the BBC on Sept 4, 2022 shows Britain's Foreign Secretary and a contender to become the country's next Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative party Liz Truss (left) speaking during an interview with BBC journalist Laura Kuenssberg (right) on the TV set, in London. (JEFF OVERS / BBC / AFP)
Truss has said she will appoint a strong cabinet, dispensing with what one source close to her called a "presidential-style" of governing, and will need to win over some Conservative lawmakers who had backed Sunak.
"It was closer than expected," said Conservative member of parliament Andrew Bridgen. "By the end of the week, we'll get a new government and you'd be amazed at how this party can come together and unite."
Weak starting point
However, the Institute for Government think-tank said Truss would have a weaker starting point than any of her predecessors, because she was not the first choice among her party's lawmakers.
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First on her list will be surging energy prices, expected to boost average annual household utility bills by 80 percent in October to 3,549 pounds and to 6,000 pounds in 2023.
Union Jack flags are seen in front of the Elizabeth Tower, known as Big Ben, beside the Houses of Parliament in London on June 24, 2022. (FRANK AUGSTEIN / AP)
Britain has lagged other major European countries in supporting its consumers, which opposition blames on a "zombie" government unable to act during the Conservatives' leadership contest. read more
"We've heard far more from the latest prime minister about cuts to corporation taxes over the summer, than we have about the cost-of-living crisis," opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said.
Freezing bills at current levels is one option now being examined.