Liz Truss resigned as prime minister of Great Britain on Thursday after just 45 days on the job.
It’s possible that her predecessor and fellow Conservative Party member, Boris Johnson, will seize upon the moment and become prime minister of the United Kingdom again, just months after he resigned from the position, according to The Heritage Foundation’s Nile Gardiner. (The Daily Signal is the news outlet of The Heritage Foundation.)
“There’s a lot of speculation that Boris Johnson … is going to run as a candidate in the Conservative Party leadership race,” says Gardiner, a former aide to then-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and now director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at Heritage. “Having met Boris on many, many occasions and hosted him here at Heritage, I think that Boris, if he decides to run, would be a very, very powerful candidate.”
Truss will remain prime minister until a successor is named. Gardiner joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss why Truss failed, the lessons that can be learned from her short tenure, and what is next for Great Britain.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:
Virginia Allen: Liz Truss became prime minister of Great Britain six weeks ago, but she resigned from her position on Thursday following many calls for her to do so. Here with us to explain why she resigned and what’s going to happen next in England is Nile Gardiner.
Nile is the director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at The Heritage Foundation and formerly worked for former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Nile, welcome back to the show.
Nile Gardiner: It’s great to be here. Many thanks for hosting me today.
Allen: Well, I know it’s a busy day for you. Let’s start with that big question that everyone is asking right now. Why did Liz resign? What happened that after just six weeks in office, she said, “That’s all for me”?
Gardiner: Yeah, a great question. And really, a combination of factors were at work here. Firstly, Liz Truss’ position became really untenable within her own party. There was a growing rebellion within the Conservative Party, really from the left of the party who disliked her tax cut proposals and they fought them when she launched them a few weeks ago. The Left, I think, have staged a coup within the party to remove Liz Truss.
Of course, many Conservative MPs did not support Liz Truss in the original leadership contest when she ran against Rishi Sunak, the former chancellor of the Exchequer. So the knives were already out for Liz Truss on the liberal side of the Conservative Party, known as the “Tory wets,” actually, who have a track record of trying to depose Conservative leaders they don’t like going back to the days of Margaret Thatcher, of course, and more recently with Boris Johnson and now with Liz Truss. I think that was a key factor.
Secondly as well, Liz Truss launched, in my view, what was actually overall a very good tax-cutting budget, a mini budget a few weeks ago. This led to a ferocious backlash from the liberal elites in the United Kingdom, from the media, but also, most importantly, here from the [International Monetary Fund].
The IMF intervened and condemned the tax cut, saying they would fuel inflation. That actually led to turmoil in the financial markets in the U.K., which unsettled the British government. Also, you had the Biden demonstration weighing and attacking the tax cuts as well.
Needless to say, it’s outrageous when you have U.S. presidency intervening on this, but this is exactly what they did and of course, they didn’t like the low tax economic freedom agenda, the British government, because it makes the United States look very bad with [President] Joe Biden, who is crushing down upon economic freedom and raising taxes, spending massive amounts of taxpayers’ money, and also raising corporate tax rates as well to 28%.
The Bidens did not like what they saw with Liz Truss, a Thatcherite free marketeer. They weighed in briefing against her, no doubt in conjunction together with the IMF. But the IMF intervention I think was very, very damaging for the prime minister. It was a political intervention by the IMF and that gravely weakened her.
Then the third factor here is that the prime minister actually did a series of U-turns under pressure. She reversed most of the tax cuts. She sacked her chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, who was a very good Thatcherite chancellor. She put in place Jeremy Hunt, who is a figure of the left of the party. Basically Jeremy Hunt, when he became chancellor, took over as the most powerful person in Britain.
Then just yesterday, the home secretary—Suella Braverman—resigned, who is a very staunch Thatcherite, and that was another blow to the prime minister. Her position became untenable. She no longer, I think, had the support of the majority of the party and also the Tory party grassroots started rebelling against her as well. Opinion polls showed they no longer had confidence in her and so she had to go really on so many, based on so many factors here.
Allen: At the end of the day, was Liz Truss, in your opinion, was she just too Conservative for the people of the U.K. or did she not hold fast enough to those Conservative policies that she was putting forth?
Gardiner: I don’t think she’s just too Conservative. I think she put forward, overall, a strongly Conservative agenda on the economic front. She didn’t have the nerve or the backbone to actually stand by those policies and she lost her nerve. She surrendered to the Left.
When you surrender to the Left, it’s very dangerous because it starts a sort of, well, all the sharks start circling and it becomes a feeding frenzy, and eventually Liz Truss was like a seal surrounded by ravenous sharks and she got really eaten alive by members of her own party, frankly.
It’s a lesson for Conservative leaders. Don’t sacrifice your principles, don’t backtrack on Conservative ideas. Once you put them out there, defend them, fight for them.
Liz Truss wasn’t prepared to do that and whether it was a lack of courage or poor advice or all those factors combined, the reality is, she was a hugely disappointing prime minister. Her premiership came to a disastrous end. She has only herself to blame in some respects, although there are many other factors in her downfall, but ultimately, she was no Margaret Thatcher.
Allen: How likely is it that the Conservative Party will remain the ruling party in Britain? Do you think this is an opportunity that the opposing party will take advantage of?
Gardiner: Well, so, the Conservative government in power at the moment does not have to hold an election until the end of 2024. The last election was 2019. Boris Johnson won a stunning victory with an 80-seat majority. That majority is down now to 71.
But the reality is, the Conservatives are still in the position of power. Although you have a new prime minister come in, that doesn’t change the fact that the Conservatives are in power. They didn’t have to hold an election.
The polling shows that Labour right now have a 20- to 30-point lead—the Labour Party, the socialist party. In my view, a far-left party. If you look at their agenda, it’s just filled with ridiculous socialist ideas combined with horrible woke thinking on the cultural front as well. Absolute disaster. If Labour took over power, Britain would be, in my view, the British economy would be destroyed and it’s also the end of Brexit probably as well with the Labour.
There’s so much at stake. The Conservatives can turn this around, but they need to have a leader who’s willing to actually stand for and implement Conservative principles and fight for them.
Liz Truss clearly wasn’t willing to do that. We do need to have a prime minister with some backbone, who’s actually going to stand up for Conservative policies and ideas, somebody who’s going to truly follow in the footsteps of Margaret Thatcher and implement a Conservative agenda.
Allen: You wrote on Twitter that this could be a “Churchillian moment for Boris Johnson. The future of Great Britain and Brexit is at stake.” I want to talk about both of those issues. What exactly do you mean by the fact that this could be a Churchill moment for Boris Johnson?
Gardiner: Yes, that’s a great question. Now, there’s a lot of speculation that Boris Johnson, the former prime minister, is going to run as a candidate in the Conservative Party leadership race. Having met Boris on many, many occasions and hosted him here at Heritage, I think that Boris, if he decides to run, would be a very, very powerful candidate.
Now, I also mentioned [Winston] Churchill and Churchillian because, of course, Churchill’s career was filled with so many political comebacks. Churchill lost, of course, in 1945, the general election at the end of World War II. He was cast out and the Labour Party took over. He came back in the 1950s as prime minister very successfully.
Boris Johnson idolizes, of course, Churchill. He wrote a book on Churchill called “The Churchill Factor.” For Boris, he’s looking at Churchill’s career as an inspiration.
I do think that Boris may well seize this moment as a potential savior for Great Britain, a defender of Brexit, someone who’s going to come in and slay the dragon or the Left within the Conservative Party.
This is just a few months, of course, after he was ousted as leader of the party. I’m hearing a lot of Conservative MPs now who are saying, “Bring back Boris to save Britain.” I think if Boris does decide to run and if he makes it to the final round, which goes to the party grassroots membership, which is about 150,000 or so people, Boris is very, very popular among the grassroots and he could win.
Allen: Wow, that would be wild to see. Now, in terms of Brexit, why is Brexit now at risk?
Gardiner: Yeah. It’s at risk, really, because I think that if you have a Conservative Party that shifts the Left and a Conservative Party that is potentially dominated by what we call “Remainers”—people who voted against Brexit, who voted to remain in the European Union—if the Remainers take over the party, then I think that the drive to successfully complete the whole Brexit process, the drive to sign all the free trade deals, to completely extricate the U.K. from the EU in terms of getting rid of all the EU laws and regulations, this process could be severely hampered and delayed and diminished.
Now, far more dangerous, however, is if the Labour Party takes power a couple years from now. The Labour Party says it’s committed to Brexit, but a very high percentage of its supporters are actually, or MPs I should say, are anti-Brexit. In fact, nearly all of their MPs are anti-Brexit.
I wouldn’t trust a word coming from the leader of the Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer, on this at all. The Labour Party, if in power—most likely in coalition with the Scottish Nationalist Party, SNP, and also the Liberal Democrats, both anti-Brexit parties—I’m in no doubt the Labour Party will backtrack and will start to dismantle the Brexit process.
This is an incredibly dangerous time. If that happened, if Brexit was reversed, this would be a betrayal of the will of the British people. But the Labour Party, the socialists, they do not have any scruples, I think, on this front. They fundamentally fought against Brexit before. They’re now saying they will keep Brexit, but I don’t trust a word they’re saying on this.
Allen: All right, so this is a really critical time.
Gardiner: Yes, absolutely. Critical moment.
Allen: Now, when we look at what’s happened just in recent months in Great Britain, I mean, first Boris Johnson, he was pushed to resign, then Liz Truss, she’s pushed to resign. How much is this truly failed leadership versus the United Kingdom maybe just doesn’t really know what they want or need right now as a country?
Gardiner: Yeah, it’s a good question. I think that certainly a lack of leadership has been a big issue. Now with Boris Johnson, who I think was fantastic over Brexit, over Ukraine, for example, he was also very good in terms of British leadership in developing vaccines over COVID and so on. As was President [Donald] Trump, actually. The U.S. and the U.K. developed the vaccines that defeated COVID.
But Boris wasn’t a particularly disciplined figure. He also had, in some areas on the economic front and the environmental agenda, he did not always advance Conservative policies and viewpoints, actually. In fact, Boris’ government during the pandemic was a big-spending administration, which is part of the reason why Britain’s in a big mess right now economically. Boris really has to reverse course on those matters.
You have to ask, are the British people prepared to really lead on the world stage? Are they committed to what that involves and entails? I would say some are, some are not, but that very much hinges on the leadership that is in place.
If you have a prime minister that sees Britain as a great world power on the world stage that is going to help lead the free world, at a time especially when the United States is in decline under Joe Biden’s presidency, which has been an unmitigated disaster, British leadership really matters. And so having the right prime minister is very, very important. If you don’t have that prime minister in place, then the British people are not going to have that instinct to lead either.
British leadership is fundamentally important, I think, but you need to have a prime minister has that big-picture vision of the U.K. as a leader for freedom, economic and political freedom, but also willing to confront the enemies of freedom, especially Communist China, [Vladimir] Putin’s Russia, and so on. You need a leader who is a big-picture visionary, who has backbone, and who understands Britain’s historic role on the world stage.
Allen: How are other countries viewing what is happening in Great Britain right now? Specifically, how is Putin viewing this? Because the war is raging between Russia and Ukraine. Do we need to be concerned about Putin trying to take advantage of this moment?
Gardiner: Yeah, I think we should be concerned because already, if you look at the Twitter accounts from the Russian government, they’re gloating over the removal of Liz Truss because Truss was a very prominent critic of Putin, and so they’re celebrating her departure.
Now, if Boris Johnson comes in, they won’t be celebrating. Boris is very, very tough on the Russians. In fact, he’s been, I would say, the single biggest leader on the world stage standing with Ukraine against Russia. And so the Russians hate Boris Johnson with vengeance.
If you have a weak-kneed British leader, that’s good for the Russians, just as having weak-knee Joe Biden’s good for the Russians because Joe Biden can’t make his mind up on what to do half the time. Joe Biden’s literally sleeping from behind on the world stage.
Exactly what the Russians, the Chinese want is have some half-hearted, weak-kneed U.S. president who can’t even remember the next day what he said the previous day. That’s not very good for the free world. But if you had someone like Boris Johnson in Britain, the Russians absolutely hate him, they fear him.
Also, the Chinese don’t like Boris Johnson as well because increasingly he adopted a very hard line toward Beijing. Britain has to stand up to Communist China because let’s face it, Joe Biden doesn’t do that most of the time and there’s no coherence in U.S. foreign policy. Britain has to be a very strong leader standing up to both Russia and China.
Allen: Excellent. All right, Nile, we so appreciate your time today. Thank you so much for coming.
Gardiner: My pleasure, it’s great to be here.
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