On Thursday, just 37 days after being appointed British finance minister, Kwasi Kwarteng was asked if, in a month’s time, he would still be in his job and Liz Truss would still be prime minister.
“Absolutely, 100 percent,” Kwarteng answered. “I’m not going anywhere.”
Less than a day later, he was gone. Truss’ Friday removal of Kwarteng—her closest ideological ally—from the second most powerful role in government so soon after choosing him to run the British economy is easily the worst humiliation among a cavalcade of catastrophes to hit Truss’ administration since it took over from the disgraced Boris Johnson slightly over a month ago.
New British PM Liz Truss’ First Month in Power Is Officially a Record-Breaking Sh*tshow
“You have asked me to stand aside as your Chancellor,” Kwarteng wrote in a letter Truss which he shared on Twitter on Friday. “I have accepted.”
After praising Truss’ “vision of optimism,” Kwarteng added: “We have been colleagues and friends for many years. In that time, I have seen your dedication and determination. I believe your vision is the right one.”
“Your success is this country’s success and I wish you well,” the letter concludes.
Kwarteng’s rapid downfall began with his “mini-budget” delivered on Sept. 23. The statement—which set out a radical reimagining of British economic policy in line with a radical right-wing agenda—included the biggest cuts to UK taxes in 50 years while also guaranteeing energy prices. It also included scrapping the cap on bankers’ bonuses, as well as getting rid of the top rate of tax—a policy which would only benefit the richest earners.
As well as being despised by the electorate, financial markets reacted to the unfunded proposals with horror. The pound collapsed to an all-time low against the dollar and the Bank of England was forced to take emergency action to prevent total ruin for pension funds.
Kwarteng and Truss were forced into making an embarrassing U-turn on dropping the top rate of tax earlier this month. “We get it, and we have listened,” Kwarteng tweeted as he announced the 180.
But as economic chaos continued to roil Britain’s finances, speculation built this week that Truss and Kwarteng would have to overturn even more of their calamitous mini-budget. Kwarteng was supposed to stay in Washington, DC, for an International Monetary Fund summit but flew back to London a day early as the crisis mounted.
His sacking makes him the second shortest-serving UK finance minister in history. The shortest was Iain Macleod, who died of a heart attack just 30 days after starting the job in 1970.
With her policy agenda destroyed, Truss will now attempt to replace Kwarteng and cling onto power—possibly by turning to the policies of her Conservative leadership rivals who said her plans would lead to the catastrophe she now finds herself in. Unsurprisingly, opposition lawmakers and even members of his own party are already demanding that Truss resigns.
The question will now turn to how long she can hold on.
A scathing article in the Economist this week concluded that her grip on power ended with the mini-budget, and that when accounting for “the ten days of mourning after the death of Queen Elizabeth II” which overlapped with Truss’ first days in power, the prime minister actually only enjoyed around one week in power.
“That is roughly the shelf-life of a lettuce,” the piece said. And as news broke on Friday that Kwarteng was returning to Britain early, the Daily Star newspaper setup a satirical livestream of a lettuce withering in real time, asking “Can Liz Truss outlast this lettuce?”
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