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The United Kingdom went through three prime ministers between September and December as political instability, Conservative Party infighting, and economic crisis roiled Westminster.

Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s scandal-plagued tenure seemed to many observers a turbulent time at Downing Street—until his replacement, Liz Truss, arrived in September. Within weeks, Truss faced the death of the queen; issued a so-called mini-budget along with her chancellor of the exchequer, Kwasi Kwarteng, that sent the pound plunging to historic lows; nearly provoked a full-fledged financial crisis; saw Tory poll numbers drop to levels not seen since the 1990s; and then tendered her resignation under pressure from party colleagues after just 44 days. Former Chancellor Rishi Sunak took the helm in late October with a pledge to restore competent economic management and stability.

Foreign Policy to some extent foresaw Truss’s political ascent—although not her rapid downfall—in an October 2021 profile by Amy Mackinnon. FP also profiled Kwarteng more than a year before his arrival at the Treasury. Once in power, Garvan Walshe and FP’s Adam Tooze wrote trenchantly on Truss’s ideological tunnel vision and economic policy errors before those mistakes eventually brought her down.

The United Kingdom went through three prime ministers between September and December as political instability, Conservative Party infighting, and economic crisis roiled Westminster.

Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s scandal-plagued tenure seemed to many observers a turbulent time at Downing Street—until his replacement, Liz Truss, arrived in September. Within weeks, Truss faced the death of the queen; issued a so-called mini-budget along with her chancellor of the exchequer, Kwasi Kwarteng, that sent the pound plunging to historic lows; nearly provoked a full-fledged financial crisis; saw Tory poll numbers drop to levels not seen since the 1990s; and then tendered her resignation under pressure from party colleagues after just 44 days. Former Chancellor Rishi Sunak took the helm in late October with a pledge to restore competent economic management and stability.

Foreign Policy to some extent foresaw Truss’s political ascent—although not her rapid downfall—in an October 2021 profile by Amy Mackinnon. FP also profiled Kwarteng more than a year before his arrival at the Treasury. Once in power, Garvan Walshe and FP’s Adam Tooze wrote trenchantly on Truss’s ideological tunnel vision and economic policy errors before those mistakes eventually brought her down.

Here are five of FP’s most important articles on British politics and the tumultuous transition from Johnson to Truss to Sunak.


1. Kwasi Kwarteng Is a Brilliant Man in a Bad Role

by Nels Abbey, May 22, 2021

Nels Abbey profiles Kwarteng while still Johnson’s business secretary, noting that Kwarteng was far more intellectually impressive than his boss and had been called upon to defend party policies on race that made him seem uncomfortable.

Given his academic background in economics as well as professional experience in finance, observers always assumed Kwarteng would thrive as a policymaker in that field. “Kwarteng is perfectly placed to steer the country in the direction of that more radical approach to business and economics and realize his apparent dream of longer working hours, later retirement, and greater productivity for and from British workers,” Abbey writes. But when he finally had the power to do so—amid a historical economic downturn—the response of the markets he’d placed so much faith in was swift and devastating, leading to his firing.


2. Liz Truss, True Believer

by Amy Mackinnon, Oct. 22, 2021

Mackinnon chronicles Truss’s rise through the Tory party ranks over the years, her promotion as a Johnson loyalist and early signs of the ideological rigidity that proved her undoing.

“Those who know Truss describe her as a conviction politician. What they mean is her view of the world shapes her policy-thinking,” she writes. But as Mackinnon notes, “Her track record so far suggests she is a competent leader. But she hasn’t yet been battle-tested.” That test eventually arrived—and, by all accounts, Truss failed. Financial markets and the party reacted quickly.


3. Liz Truss Wants to Be Thatcher. She’s Not.

by Garvan Walshe, Sept. 27, 2022


Elizabeth Truss arrives for a cabinet meeting.

Elizabeth Truss arrives for a cabinet meeting.

Liz Truss arrives for a cabinet meeting at the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office in London on Sept. 22, 2020.Leon Neal/Getty Images

Soon after Truss took office, Garvan Walshe—a former advisor to former Prime Minister David Cameron—takes the prime minister to task for ideological inflexibility, particularly on the issue of Brexit. Walshe, who had kind words for Truss in Mackinnon’s 2021 profile, saw trouble brewing as “true believers” like Truss and Kwarteng faced an economic landscape transformed by war in Ukraine, rising energy prices, ballooning gilt yields, and looming recession—all while remaining committed to the Brexit project of distancing Britain from its closest trading partner.

“The real difficulty for this government lies in Downing Street’s ideological approach to those parts of Europe [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is not currently invading—in other words the disastrous impact Brexit has had on trade and ties with the European Union.”


4. Liz Truss’s Britain Is a Morbid Symptom of the World’s New Era

by Adam Tooze, Oct. 7, 2022

After Truss and Kwarteng’s mini-budget savaged the pound and sent bond yields soaring, FP’s Adam Tooze lambasts their economic policymaking. “Their program was a quintessential post-Brexit manifesto, high on ideology and blustering self-confidence, promising a dramatic new vision of Britain’s future but lacking details,” he writes in early October, two weeks before Truss stepped down. “It stretches credulity to suggest that they actually believe this is a formula for national economic growth. It is certainly an agenda for greater inequality.” By the end of the month, Truss’s newly appointed chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, seemed to agree—and promptly reversed almost all of her economic policy agenda.


5. Can Rishi Sunak Unite Britain?

by Amy Mackinnon, Oct. 29, 2022

In late October, Mackinnon returned for a postmortem on the Truss administration, interviewing Anand Menon of King’s College London and Robin Niblett of Chatham House to assess the prospects of the incoming Sunak government, questioning whether the “the guy who wears Prada shoes” could restore voter confidence in the Conservative Party and steer Britain out of an economic crisis. As Niblett noted, unlike authoritarian states with highly scripted transitions, “Britain wears its chaos on its sleeve and seems to be pulling through it at the moment.” But as temperatures plummet and the cost of living (especially heating) skyrockets amid widespread strikes, Sunak could soon face his own winter of discontent.

Nightmare on Downing Street

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