Truss Fires Home Secretary as UK Government Risks Imploding

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Liz Truss fired Home Secretary Suella Braverman for what was described as a national security breach, a dramatic move that heaps even more pressure on Britain’s premier as she clings to power.

Braverman shared secret documents on a personal mobile phone, four officials familiar with the matter said. In a letter to Truss posted on Twitter, she said she had sent an official document from her personal email, the contents of which she said had already been briefed to MPs.

That is regarded as serious, though not normally a firing offense. But political context is key, as Truss battles to keep her premiership from imploding.

According to a person familiar with the matter, Braverman was on a list of Cabinet ministers Truss’s worried advisers were preparing to resign to try to force the premier out after a disastrous six weeks in office. The others are Education Secretary Kit Malthouse and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch, the person said. Both told Bloomberg News they are not quitting.

Yet the fears among Truss’s team illustrated just how far the prime minister’s authority has disintegrated in her mutinous Conservative Party. Compounding the sense of desperation, Truss moved quickly to replace Braverman with Grant Shapps — who has himself been openly plotting with Tory MPs to remove the prime minister. That bears all the hallmarks of a premier not in control.

Key Firing

Braverman is the second holder of one of the UK’s so-called Great Offices of State to be fired by Truss. Kwasi Kwarteng, Truss’s longtime friend and ally, was removed as Chancellor of the Exchequer after the economic plan. They worked on together blew up in the face of financial market pressure, forcing a series of humiliating U-Turns.

Even getting to the end of Wednesday could be a challenge. Truss has warned Conservative MPs not to vote in the evening with the opposition Labor Party’s bid to ban shale gas fracking. Government whips have threatened to kick any Tory rebels out of the parliamentary party. But fracking is a thorny issue and many Conservatives reject it due to fierce opposition in their districts.

Truss Warns UK Tours Not to Defy Her on Fracking

Multiple MPs have told government whips that they will abstain on Wednesday evening’s vote, even if it means losing the whip, according to a person familiar with the matter. Some Tory MPs took to Twitter to express their defiance — ex-minister Chris Skidmore said he wouldn’t vote to support fracking “for the sake of our environment and climate,” and would face the consequences.

There’s another looming row on benefit payments, which many Tory MPs want the government to raise in line with soaring inflation. But new Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt has refused to commit to doing so as he seeks to repair the damage done by Truss and Kwarteng with their economic plan.

Looming Cuts

The fear among Conservatives is that a real-terms benefits cut will hurt the most vulnerable during a cost-of-living crisis. Tory support has plummeted to a record low in opinion polls, and Truss’s personal approval rating is substantially lower than her ousted predecessor, Boris Johnson.

Hunt has reversed most of the policies to restore financial stability after the UK’s public finances suddenly unraveled. But in doing so, he has put the Tories on a path to another round of punishing austerity.

Still, according to people familiar with the matter, Hunt told rank-and-file Tories on Wednesday he is committed to raise spending defense to 3% of GDP by 2030 — a longstanding Truss pledge — and will stick with the high-speed railway project HS2.

The bigger question facing Conservative MPs is whether and when to remove Truss, with the next general election due by January 2025. There’s a growing consensus that she shouldn’t be allowed to lead the party into that vote, but deep divisions over who MPs want to take over.

In her letter to Truss posted on Twitter, Braverman made a thinly-veiled attack on the prime minister’s performance. “Pretending we haven’t made mistakes, carrying on as if everyone can’t see that we have made them, and hoping that things will magically come right is not serious politics,” she said.

Her departure from office has left Westminster on edge. Though she was pushed out by Truss, a few MPs will miss the broader significance of the loss of another key ally on the ideological right of the party.

In the absence of a clear unity candidate — former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak and House of Commons leader Penny Mordaunt are in the running — it is Cabinet departures that pose the most immediate threat to Truss. Johnson’s tenure was ended by the sudden resignations of then Health Secretary Sajid Javid and Sunak, which triggered a mass exodus from his government.

“I’m a fighter, not a quitter,” Truss said in the House of Commons on facing lawmakers for the first time since she was forced to junk most of her economic program just weeks after announcing it.

–With assistance from Emily Ashton, Ellen Milligan and Joe Mayes.

(Updates with Shapps appointed in fifth paragraph)

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