LONDON — British Prime Minister Liz Truss resigned Thursday after just six weeks in office, following a disastrous and rapidly reversed economic plan that sent the pound plunging and her government into chaos.
Having been formally appointed by Queen Elizabeth II on Sept. 6, just days before the monarch’s death, Truss is now by far the shortest-serving prime minister in British history and will be remembered as one of the most calamitous.
The previous holder of this record, George Canning, lasted 119 days in the early 19th century; Truss announced her resignation after 44 days.
A leadership contest is now underway to decide the next head of the ruling Conservative Party, who will by default become the next prime minister, and will conclude in the next week. The opposition Labour Party called for an immediate national election.
On Wednesday, Truss assured Parliament during the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions session that she was a “fighter, not a quitter.”
But leading a ruling party is only possible with respect and credibility. Truss increasingly had little of either, and quit just a day later.
“I recognize that given the situation, I cannot deliver the mandate on which I was elected by the Conservative Party,” she said Thursday in a brief, unrepentant speech outside No. 10 Downing St.
“I have therefore spoken to his majesty the king to notify him that I am resigning as leader of the Conservative Party.”
She ended the statement by saying: “I will remain as prime minister until a successor is chosen.”
Attention is already turning to what happens next.
There are even calls for her predecessor, Boris Johnson, to stage a dramatic return, just months after resigning under pressure from his own party and the public in the wake of a wave of scandals.
Rishi Sunak, Johnson’s former finance minister who pointed out the folly of Truss’ economic plans, is one favorite to replace her. He came second to Truss in the race to succeed Johnson. There is also support in the party for Penny Mordaunt, an experienced figure who earlier this week stood in for Truss in Parliament and assured lawmakers the prime minister was not hiding under a desk.
But with no clear successor waiting in the wings, there could be more uncertain days ahead.
Truss’ departure follows a night of remarkable scenes in Parliament, with lawmakers denouncing strong-arm tactics employed by the government that allegedly brought some colleagues to tears, and prompted growing demands for her to go from within her own party.
She huddled inside No. 10 Downing St. with Graham Brady, a senior Conservative lawmaker who oversees leadership challenges. Brady is perhaps better placed than anyone to judge a leader’s support within the party — and by Thursday morning, the picture was clear.
Truss, 47, had promised a radical shift in Britain’s economic fortunes, turning it into a low-tax, high-growth country that would unleash its post-Brexit potential.
In practice, “Trussonomics” was an utter failure and would become her political epitaph.
Her first finance minister, Kwasi Kwarteng, announced 45 billion pounds ($48 billion) in unfunded tax cuts, which saw the government’s cost of borrowing spiral, an emergency intervention from the central Bank of England and a reprimand from the International Monetary Fund.
Kwarteng was soon fired, and his successor, Jeremy Hunt, set about reversing almost all of the controversial policies. Despite the U-turn, Britain is still coping with the fallout from this plan, with record inflation and increased mortgage rates.
While in office, Truss became a figure of ridicule, compared unfavorably to a rotting lettuce in a blond wig in a tabloid newspaper stunt. Her personal approval rating fell to minus 70, according to pollsters at YouGov, making her the most unpopular party leader in British history. The center-left Labour Party soared in the polls.
Its leader, Keir Starmer, called for a national election in a statement shortly after Truss resigned.
“The British people deserve so much better than this revolving door of chaos,” he said.
Truss did not win a national election herself.
She won the Conservative leadership race and became prime minister by default: In Britain’s unwritten Constitution, the leader of the party with the most seats in the House of Commons is invited to form the government.
Now the Conservatives, known as Tories, will begin the search for their fifth leader in six years, a sign of Britain’s tumultuous political life since the 2016 referendum on leaving the European Union.
Some Tories have cautioned against choosing their next leader without allowing the British people at large to have their say.
Most former prime ministers choose either to remain a backbencher — a member of Parliament without a government job who represents their district — or to resign, triggering a by-election.
Whether she continues to serve her constituency in southwest Norfolk in the east of England, or leave to do something completely different, remains to be seen.
Reaction poured in from across the world within minutes of her resignation.
President Joe Biden said in a statement that the United States and Britain are strong allies and that fact will never change.
“I thank Prime Minister Liz Truss for her partnership on a range of issues, including holding Russia accountable for its war against Ukraine,” he said.
“We will continue our close cooperation with the U.K. government as we work together to meet the global challenges our nations face,” he added.
Last week, Biden called Truss’ abandoned tax cut plan a “mistake.”
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Britain has never known such a disgrace of a leader, adding that Truss will be remembered for her “catastrophic illiteracy.”
Truss has been an ardent critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his war in Ukraine. Any successor is likely to continue that stance.
Arriving at a E.U. summit in Brussels, French President Emmanuel Macron said it was important that Britain find “stability as soon as possible,” Reuters reported.