Liz Truss to Replace Boris Johnson at a Time of Crisis for Britain

LONDON — A divided British Conservative Party announced on Monday that it had chosen Liz Truss to replace Prime Minister Boris Johnson, turning to a party stalwart, hawkish diplomat and free-market champion to lead a country facing the gravest economic crisis in a generation.

Ms. Truss, 47, defeated Rishi Sunak, a former chancellor of the Exchequer, whose resignation in July set in motion Mr. Johnson’s ouster. Her victory was widely expected, but the margin was less resounding than the polls forecast, suggesting she may face problems pulling together a party shaken by Mr. Johnson’s turbulent three-year tenure and a country rattled by an energy crisis and the aftershocks of Brexit.

Ms. Truss, who served as foreign secretary in Mr. Johnson’s cabinet and was not part of the Tory rebellion that led to his departure, will formally assume the prime minister’s title on Tuesday in a meeting with Queen Elizabeth II at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, where the queen spends her summer holiday.

Ms. Truss will be Britain’s fourth prime minister in the six years since it voted to leave the European Union, and only its third female leader, after Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May. Like them, she will be greeted by a forbidding array of problems.

Double-digit inflation, a looming recession, labor unrest, soaring household energy bills and possible fuel shortages this winter — all will confront Ms. Truss as she moves into 10 Downing Street. She also faces a potential collision with the European Union over her legislation to change trade rules in Northern Ireland, a dispute that could spill over into Britain’s relations with the United States, which opposes any kind of disruptive change.

In a brief, businesslike speech to members of her party after her victory was confirmed, Ms. Truss promised a “bold plan” to lower taxes and revive the economy. “I campaigned as a Conservative, and I will govern as a Conservative,” she declared. “We will deliver, we will deliver and we will deliver.”

Ms. Truss after her victory was confirmed.Credit…Adrian Dennis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Critics said Ms. Truss’s call for tax cuts and smaller government was inadequate in the face of the dire economic threats bearing down on Britain. Many expect her to pivot quickly and announce a massive aid program, as soon as this week, to shield vulnerable households from skyrocketing gas and electric bills, a collateral effect of Russia’s cutoff of energy supplies to continental Europe.

“The wonderland nature of the campaign has not prepared people for what’s to come,” said Gavin Barwell, who served as chief of staff to Mrs. May. “If you look at the overall environment, you’ve got quite a difficult set of issues, and the party is in a worse state than when May came in.”

On the global stage, Ms. Truss is likely to intensify Britain’s support for Ukraine and its president, Volodymyr Zelensky. As foreign secretary, she staked out a tough position on Russia, declaring that “Putin must lose” his war on Ukraine.

The Fall of Boris Johnson, Explained

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The Fall of Boris Johnson, Explained

Turmoil at Downing Street. Britain’s prime minister Boris Johnson said he would step down less than three years after a landslide election victory, following a series of scandals that have ensnared his government. Here’s what led to this:

The Fall of Boris Johnson, Explained

The Pincher case. Mr. Johnson’s downfall is connected with the resignation of Chris Pincher, a Conservative deputy chief whip, after he admitted to having groped two men. Outrage grew as it was revealed that Mr. Johnson was aware of prior sexual misconduct allegations against him when he appointed him; the prime minister had previously denied knowing about the accusations.

The Fall of Boris Johnson, Explained

A wave of resignations. The revelations prompted the unexpected resignation of two of Mr. Johnson’s highest-ranking ministers — the chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, and the health secretary, Sajid Javid. That was followed by a flurry of resignations of other ministers and officials, capped by Mr. Johnson’s decision to step down.

The Fall of Boris Johnson, Explained

The ‘Partygate’ scandal. Since late last year, Mr. Johnson had been grappling with reports about parties he attended in Downing Street while Covid lockdown rules were in force. An internal inquiry found that 83 people violated the rules at parties, and the police imposed hundreds of fines, including one on Mr. Johnson, for breaches of social distancing. Mr. Johnson survived a no-confidence vote triggered by the scandal, but was left reeling politically.

The Fall of Boris Johnson, Explained

Other scandals. The prime minister’s reputation had also been tarnished by his staunch defense of a Conservative lawmaker for violating lobbying rules, his government’s contentious plans to change the system that investigated that lawmaker and the costly refurbishment of his apartment at No. 10 Downing Street, for which he secretly used funds from a Conservative Party donor.

But the range of economic problems facing Britain may make it difficult for Ms. Truss to try to advance other aspects of Mr. Johnson’s vision of Global Britain as an agile, forceful, independent nation abroad.

Ms. Truss is the third prime minister in a row to take over at a time of crisis. Mrs. May and Mr. Johnson both wrestled with the toxic fallout from Brexit, while Mr. Johnson, months after completing Britain’s departure from the European Union, was engulfed by the coronavirus pandemic. That laid the seeds for his downfall in a festering scandal over parties at Downing Street that violated lockdown rules.

New British leaders typically enjoy a bounce in the polls, and Ms. Truss’s practical, unfussy style could appeal to Britons after the circuslike atmosphere of the Johnson years. But political analysts said her honeymoon could be brief and the reservoir of her support shallow, given the attenuated nature of her rise.

She was selected by a tiny slice of the British electorate — 170,00 or so dues-paying members of the Conservative Party — and even among that rarefied group, she did not receive the support of a majority of registered voters.After weeks of polls showing her with a big lead over Mr. Sunak, some by more than 30 percentage points, her margin of victory, 57.4 percent to 42.6 percent, was less than expected. (Mr. Johnson won 66 percent of the members’ votes when he was selected as leader in 2019.)

Rishi Sunak, center, applauding Ms. Truss after the announcement.Credit…Pool photo by Stefan Rousseau

Moreover, Mr. Sunak, not Ms. Truss, was the top choice of Conservative lawmakers in the first round of the two-stage leadership contest, when they winnowed the initial field of eight candidates to two. At one point, she came close to missing the cut to advance to the last round of voting among party activists.

Once the audience shifted from lawmakers to rank-and-file members, however, Ms. Truss seized a lead over Mr. Sunak, which she did not relinquish in six weeks of joint campaign appearances. Her promises to cut taxes and shrink government were reliable Tory party applause lines, even if some economists said they would do little to solve Britain’s problems, and could even worsen them.

Mr. Sunak, 42, a former investment banker whose Indian parents immigrated to Britain in the 1960s, would have made history of his own had he won, becoming Britain’s first nonwhite prime minister.

Despite Mr. Sunak’s lively performance in some later debates, his message — that the government should not cut taxes before it tamed inflation — was less appealing to theparty faithful than Mr. Truss’s. Speculation that Mr. Sunak was hindered by racism surfaced during the campaign, though he was more evidently handicapped by criticism of his extreme wealth and affluent lifestyle.

Many members also never forgave him for his role in Mr. Johnson’s ouster; he was one of two major Conservative figures, along with Sajid Javid, to resign from the cabinet, prompting a wave of defections that quickly made Mr. Johnson’s position untenable.

At times, the campaign turned bitter. Mr. Sunak and his allies dismissed Ms. Truss’s economic plans as irresponsible. One former cabinet minister, Michael Gove, described them as a “holiday from reality.”

Throughout her career, however, Ms. Truss has displayed an instinct for adopting a more politically advantageous position, shifting her stance when necessary.As a student at Oxford University, she was an active member of Britain’s centrist party, the Liberal Democrats, before switching to the Tories after she graduated. She campaigned against Britain’s departure from the European Union in the 2016 referendum campaign, only to become a full-throated Brexiteer after the vote.

Ms. Truss must now decide whether to double down on her free-market rhetoric or pivot to the political center. She has promised targeted aid to those most affected by rising energy costs, but has declined to give details. She has ruled out measures like fuel rationing or a new windfall profit tax on energy companies. At her final campaign event in London last week, Ms. Truss pledged not to impose any additional taxes, a promise that some experts said would be hard to keep.

Ms. Truss and Mr. Sunak appearing on the BBC’s program “Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg,” on Sept. 4. Credit…Jeff Overs/BBC, via Reuters

On Sunday, speaking to the BBC journalist Laura Kuenssberg, Ms. Truss acknowledged that one of her proposed tax cuts would disproportionately benefit wealthier people. But she said the benefits would flow through the economy, echoing the “trickle-down” economic theory once championed by Ronald Reagan.

“To look at everything through the lens of redistribution, I believe, is wrong,” Ms. Truss said. “Because what I’m about is growing the economy. And growing the economy benefits everybody.”

Ms. Truss’s choice for key cabinet positions will be a test of whether she aims to reach out to former rivals or reward loyalists, many of whom come from the right. Mr. Sunak has signaled he will not accept a job in her government.

Taking the helm of a party that has been in power for 12 years places an added burden on Ms. Truss. The scandals that brought down Mr. Johnson sapped support for the Tories, who now lag the opposition Labour Party in polls. Winning a fifth straight general election will be hard, particularly in the teeth of an economic downturn. Under electoral rules, the vote must be held by the beginning of 2025.

That has led to speculation that Ms. Truss might call a snap election, seeking to benefit from the good will she might reap from cutting taxes and protecting consumers from the impact of spiking energy costs.

Previous prime ministers have struggled with the calculation.In 2017, Mrs. May appeared to rule out calling an election, only to change her mind and lose her parliamentary majority when the election went badly.

Given that the Tories currently have an 80-seat majority, political analysts said Ms. Truss might look opportunistic if she tried a snap election and that the best strategy could be to disprove her doubters and demonstrate her ability to deal effectively with the economic headwinds.

If she can produce a package of measures, they said, she could heal the divisions in the party. “But if she doesn’t, then those differences will be magnified,” said Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London.

“One of the advantages she does have, is low expectations,” Professor Bale said. “If she can exceed them, she may have a chance.”

The media assembling on Downing Street in London after Ms. Truss was announced as Britain’s next prime minister.Credit…Hannah Mckay/Reuters

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