Liz Truss has apologised for the “mistakes” she has made in her first few weeks as Prime Minister, but has insisted she will lead the Tories into the next general election.
The Prime Minister said she has “adjusted what we’re doing” after almost all of the tax cuts announced in last month’s mini-budget were scrapped. New Chancellor Jeremy Hunt unveiled a fresh strategy on Monday to “restore economic stability” after the government’s policies spooked the markets.
Truss said after September’s mini-budget policies were reversed: “I recognise we have made mistakes. I am sorry for those mistakes, but I fixed those mistakes. I appointed a new chancellor, we have restored economic stability and fiscal discipline.” She added: “I do think it is the mark of an honest politician who does say, yes, I’ve made a mistake”
Despite a fifth Conservative MP - senior backbencher Sir Charles Walker - warning her days are numbered, Truss said she was focused on "delivering for the British public" and is battling to save her premiership after her economic agenda was left in tatters by the dismantling of former Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s landmark mini-budget.
Speaking after she sat silent in the Commons for roughly 30 minutes as Hunt told MPs he was scaling back the energy support package and ditching most of the tax cuts announced by his predecessor, Truss said she wanted to “accept responsibility and say sorry for the mistakes that have been made”. She told the BBC: “I wanted to act… to help people with their energy bills, to deal with the issue of high taxes, but we went too far and too fast. I’ve acknowledged that.”
Labour accused the Tories of sparking a crisis paid for by working people, and insisted “no sorry” could change that. James Murray, Labour’s shadow financial secretary to the Treasury, said: “After weeks of blaming everyone else, it seems the Tories have finally apologised for crashing the economy and sending people’s mortgages through the roof.
“But an apology won’t undo the damage they have done. Millions of people are facing £500 a month increases in repayments and the whole country will suffer if services are slashed in an attempt to salvage the wreckage they have made of the public finances. No sorry can change the fact that this crisis was made in Downing Street but is being paid for by working people.”
‘I couldn’t deliver everything I wanted’
Truss has been humiliated by a raft of U-turns after last month’s so-called “fiscal event” sparked chaos in the markets. In the three weeks following the ex-chancellor’s mini-budget, the pound hit its lowest point in history, the interest rate on government loans rose to its highest for 30 years, and London’s shares crashed to a 19-month low.
The turmoil ultimately led to Kwarteng’s downfall, with Hunt chosen to take over the reins at the Treasury. On Monday, he tore up the Prime Minister’s economic strategy, abandoning plans to cut the basic rate of income tax in April and freeze alcohol duty from February. The government had already axed plans to scrap the 45p rate of income tax for top earners and had U-turned on a promise not to increase corporation tax.
The pound and UK government bonds rallied in response to Hunt’s emergency statement, while economists suggested the Chancellor’s approach may reduce the need for dramatic interest rate rises. Plans to cut national insurance contributions and a reduction in stamp duty, which are already going through Parliament, will continue.
Following the announcement, Truss admitted to the BBC she could not deliver “everything” she had hoped to, but pledged to follow through on her agenda for growth. She said: “Yes… I couldn’t deliver everything I wanted. I delivered the energy price guarantee and the national insurance and we will continue to work to deliver economic growth for our country. This week we’re introducing new legislation to make sure that we have smooth-running rail services and that commuters can get into work, and we were dealing with militant unions. So we will continue to deliver our agenda.”
Asked if she felt humiliated by the dramatic change in tack, the Prime Minister said things had not been “perfect”, reflecting on a “difficult time”. “I was expecting it to be tough, and it has been tough, I think it’s fair to say,” she said, adding that it had been “painful” to sack Kwarteng, but insisted she had made the “right decision”.
There has been speculation that Truss could become the second Tory leader to be ousted this year, but she has vowed she is “sticking around” because she was “elected to deliver for this country”, adding: “I will lead the Conservatives into the next general election. I will stay in the job to deliver for the national interest.” Under current party rules Ms Truss is protected from a leadership challenge for 12 months, but that could change if enough Tory MPs demand it.
The pressure on the Prime Minister gained traction on Monday evening, with five Tories now openly calling for her to go after just six weeks in power. Sir Charles Walker was the latest to make the case for her exit. He told Sky News’ Beth Rigby: “I think her position is untenable. She has put colleagues, the country, through a huge amount of unnecessary pain and upset and worry.”
The situation “can only be remedied” with “a new prime minister”, he said. Earlier, the Prime Minister’s press secretary said there had been no point on Monday when Truss thought her time was up.