The Internal Rebellions Of The British Tories That Have Brought Down Their Last Three Prime Ministers

The Internal Rebellions Of The British ‘Tories’ That Have Brought Down Their Last Three Prime Ministers

The internal rebellions of the British 'Tories' that have brought down their last three prime ministers

The British Conservatives have once again forced the downfall of their leader. Liz Truss has become the most fleeting prime minister in the history of the United Kingdom after following the same fate as her two predecessors: Theresa May, who did not survive the Brexit negotiations, and Boris Johnson, who resigned due to another internal rebellion after parties in Downing Street during the pandemic.

Truss, who had held various government positions since she was recruited by David Cameron, took the reins of the Government on September 6 ready to imitate Margaret Thatcher. Last month, the premier and her then economy minister, Kwasi Kwarteng, announced a large tax cut that the International Monetary Fund called “inappropriate” and punished by the markets. The pound fell and the Bank of England was forced to intervene. Little more than a week later, on October 3, Truss had to back down and withdraw the tax cut in the highest bracket of income tax, that is, the richest.

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The rectification failed to silence the criticism and, a few days later, he announced the dismissal of Foreign Minister Kwarteng as well as a new step back from another of his fiscal plan measures: the alleged reduction in corporate tax. The main objective was to save himself. The price, the absolute loss of authority in a deeply divided Conservative Party that fears losing the next general election.

As she fought for her political survival and watched her new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt, almost completely dismantle her plan, several Tory MPs were already plotting how to remove her, according to British media reports. “Her MPs for her know that just as Boris Johnson had shattered any reputation they had for integrity, so she has on economic competition,” Pippa Crerar, the Guardian’s chief policy officer, wrote a week ago.

Truss’s continued tenure became untenable on Wednesday. Her former Minister of the Interior, Suella Braverman, left the Government and, although in her resignation letter she alleged a personal error in the management of her personal mail, she also expressed her differences with Truss. “Not only have we broken key promises we made to our voters, but I have serious concerns about this Administration’s commitment to delivering on program measures.” That same afternoon chaos broke out during a parliamentary vote in which dozens of conservative deputies were absent from the chamber amid accusations of coercion by colleagues seeking to prevent a rebellion. “I am a fighter and not a defector,” the prime minister told the House of Commons that day. A growing number of Tories publicly called for her resignation.

In a sign that the end was near, less than 24 hours later, a cornered Truss met with the head of the non-government Conservative MPs group, Graham Brady, the man who has ended up forcing down recent prime ministers with his visits to 10 Downing Street. She gave in to the pressure: at 1:30 p.m. this Thursday, the premier announced her resignation in front of the famous black door of the official residence, just like her predecessors did. “I recognize that, given the situation, I cannot fulfill the mandate for which I was elected by the Conservative Party,” said Truss, who was elected thanks to the Conservative base after a campaign that orbited around the promise of lower taxes. The Conservative MPs’ first choice had been his rival, former Finance Minister Rishi Sunak.

Truss will stay in office until her party chooses a successor. Normally, the internal process lasts weeks, but the Tories have accelerated it so that it concludes no later than next Friday. The opposition has called for an early election: the polls predict a collapse for the Conservatives and give Labor a difference of up to 30 points in voting intentions if a general election is held now.

The internal rebellion in the ranks of the Tories also ended up becoming unbearable for Johnson, who arrived at Downing Street in July 2019 to replace May after winning the internal elections of the Conservatives, who supported him, among other reasons, for his determination to materialize Brexit. In December of that year, he won the general election with an overwhelming absolute majority. His mandate was marked by the official departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union and the COVID-19 pandemic, and also punctuated by several scandals related to the lack of transparency about what he knew and what the Prime Minister did not know.

During his time in office, Johnson faced several revolts in his ranks, including from ‘rogue’ MPs who opposed virus restrictions. Complaints in the Tory entourage rose in earnest a year ago, when the Prime Minister attempted to reform the standards system in the scandal of Owen Paterson MP, who was facing suspension for breaching lobbying rules. Meanwhile, Labor grew little by little in the polls, until they managed to surpass the Conservatives in voting intentions.

But the worst was yet to come. In November 2021, the first reports emerged of a series of parties held in Downing Street during the 2020 and 2021 coronavirus lockdowns, soon known as Partygate. The drip was growing. Johnson went from denial to apology and ended up being fined by the Police for violating the rules.

His final months in office were plagued by accusations that he had not told the truth, with MPs from different wings of the Conservative Party pushing to trigger the internal impeachment process. A question floated in the press: “How much more can you take?”. At the end of last May, an official investigation revealed details about those parties, which were held in the midst of a pandemic with “wine through the walls”, “drunkenness” and maneuvers to flee from journalists.

Discontent among Tory MPs increased. In early June, Johnson managed to overcome an internal vote raised by the Conservatives to question his leadership after the independent report documenting the lack of compliance with the health rules for the control of the pandemic by various members of the Government. However, in a major internal rebellion, 40% of his deputies voted to expel the prime minister. Although he managed to stay in power, his authority was affected after the vote.

What ended up putting Johnson on the ropes was the handling of the case of Chris Pincher, a Conservative MP in a key position accused of sexual harassment. The then prime minister acknowledged, after initially denying it, that he did know that Pincher had been investigated in the past for inappropriate behaviour. The new controversy was added to the poor results of the conservatives in the last two special local elections.

The straw that finally broke the camel’s back was the resignation of two government heavyweights, the Ministers of Health and Economy, Sajid Javid and Rishi Sunak. His gesture started a wave of resignations in the Government and in the party in a few hours. After a last desperate attempt to stay in power, Johnson finally surrendered on July 7.

During his resignation speech, Johnson launched a dig at fellow party members who had mobilized against him. “In recent days I have tried to convince my colleagues that it would be eccentric to change the government when we are fulfilling so much (…) and when in reality we are only a handful of points behind in the polls,” said the then premier in front of the very door of Downing Street.”But, as we have seen, in Westminster the herd instinct is powerful and when the herd moves, it moves, and, my friends, in politics no one is even remotely indispensable.”

That day, Johnson became the third Conservative Prime Minister to fall in six years. The Tories have been in power since 2010, but his government has been characterized by instability since the Brexit referendum in June 2016.

In the case of Theresa May, it was Brexit that pitched the Conservative Party against her prime minister, who had walked through the door of Downing Street after Cameron’s resignation. He faced ten months of continuous attrition with a cascade of resignations, declarations and votes against him. Since the internal rebellion broke out, the former prime minister has suffered a total of 21 resignations from members of her government due to differences regarding the Brexit strategy.

The journey began in July 2018, when May locked her cabinet in the historic Checkers residence. From there came May’s first plan for Brexit and the first internal divisions were evident. Several Conservatives have resigned, including two heavyweights: David Davis, then Brexit minister, and Boris Johnson, foreign secretary and May’s future successor.

In November 2018, after months of tough negotiations, May reached a Brexit deal with the EU. Again, another wave of resignations, including that of Davis’s successor as minister for Brexit, Dominic Raab. However, the true odyssey of the premier was unleashed a month later, when she was forced to postpone the vote on the withdrawal agreement in Parliament because she was going to suffer a humiliating defeat.

Just two days later, the Conservative Party submitted its leader to an internal vote to remove her, from which she emerged victorious. That victory guaranteed May one more year of life that, however, her conservative colleagues were in charge of shortening. Faced with the obvious rejection of the negotiated agreement between May and the EU, the prime minister chose to look again at Europe in search of a solution and she received a new door slam.

Then came the humiliating defeat that May had tried to dodge on December 10 by delaying the vote. The withdrawal agreement, in which the prime minister had staked all her political capital, was rejected on January 15 in the British Parliament by more than 200 votes. It was considered the worst defeat of a government in the United Kingdom since the 1920s. Of the 317 Conservative MPs, 118 voted against it. A day later, on January 16, May faced a no-confidence motion in Parliament and survived again. Subsequently, she presented parliamentarians with her ‘plan B’ (virtually identical to ‘plan A’) and tried to get new concessions from the EU. The community bloc insisted: there was no possible renegotiation.

Less than 24 hours before the second key vote on the withdrawal agreement, Brussels and London agreed in extremis new guarantees with the aim of convincing the rebel conservative parliamentarians. The concessions remained unconvincing and on March 12, Parliament again rejected “the improved agreement”, this time by 391 votes against and 242 in favour. “I have heard the party’s message,” May told her Conservative colleagues on March 27. The prime minister, desperate, chose to offer her head in exchange for the rebel Tory MPs supporting the text. However, Parliament rejected the withdrawal agreement for the third time, this time by a difference of 58 votes.

After a few last weeks of resistance in which she tried to convince even Labor, May finally gave up and resigned on May 24, 2019. “I have done everything possible to convince MPs to support the agreement. Unfortunately, I have not been able to achieve it,” he said.

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