Tuesday, September 06, 2022
LONDON: Boris Johnson bowed out as British prime minister on Tuesday, ending a tumultuous three years in office and bequeathing his successor Liz Truss a daunting list of problems to tackle.
Johnson, who was forced out of office by his own Conservative Party over a series of scandals, urged the country to come together and back his successor.
After making a farewell speech outside Downing Street, he left London to travel to Scotland and tender his resignation to Queen Elizabeth. Truss will also travel to the monarch's castle in northeast Scotland and be asked to form a government.
The 47-year-old Truss is tasked with steering Britain through a looming lengthy recession and an energy crisis that threatens the finances of millions of households and businesses.
Her plan to boost the economy through tax cuts while providing tens of billions of pounds to cap energy costs has already badly rattled financial markets, prompting investors to dump the pound and government bonds.
"This is it folks," Johnson said in his speech. "What I say to my fellow Conservatives, it's time for politics to be over, folks. It's time for us all to get behind Liz Truss and her team and her programme."
Truss will be the fourth Conservative prime minister in six years. She confronts the latest crisis to buffet Britain with a weaker political hand than many of her predecessors after she defeated rival Rishi Sunak in a vote of Conservative Party members by a tighter margin than expected, and with more of her lawmakers initially backing her rival.
She has promised to take "bold action" to get the country through the tough times, including cutting taxes despite a warning that that would exacerbate Britain's inflation rate, at 10.1% already the highest of any leading economy.
Johnson, who fought to stay in office until the end, used his departure speech to boast of his successes, including an early vaccine programme during the coronavirus pandemic and his early support for Ukraine in its battle against Russia.
He also listed "delivering Brexit" as one of his main achievements, although polls now show that a majority of people think leaving the European Union was a mistake, while Truss has pursued a combative approach towards Brussels that could eventually lead to a trade war.
Johnson's speech was full of the bombast and jokes characteristic of a man once loved by much of the British public but also loathed by many. He has refused to show any remorse over the scandals that brought him down, including "Partygate" a series of boozy gatherings in Downing Street while the country was under COVID-19 lockdown for which he was fined by police.
Having refused to rule out a return to the top job one day, he also indicated he was still bruised by the nature of his departure.
"The torch will finally be passed to a new Conservative leader," he said. "The baton will be handed over in what has unexpectedly turned out to be a relay race. They changed the rules halfway through but never mind that now."
Britain, under Conservative rule since 2010, has stumbled from crisis to crisis in recent years and there is now the prospect of a long recession, and further increases in inflation, plus a weakening pound.
The most pressing issue is the energy emergency, which could last for a couple of years, potentially draining the savings of households and the futures of smaller businesses that are still weighed down by COVID-era loans.
Household energy bills are due to jump by 80% in October, but a source familiar with the situation has told Reuters that Truss may freeze bills in a plan that could cost towards 100 billion pounds, surpassing the COVID-19 furlough scheme.
It is not clear how Britain will pay for the support, and whether it could involve loans that are paid back over many years.
Britain's public finances also remain weighed down by the government's huge coronavirus spending spree. Public debt as a share of economic output is not far off 100%, up from about 80% before pandemic.