Liz Truss's premiership looks close to imploding.
Liz Truss's premiership looks close to imploding after she fired one minister over a security breach and two others were heard resigning amid the fallout from a chaotic parliamentary vote before agreeing to stay in their posts.
Many Conservative lawmakers now want 47-year-old Truss to resign immediately, a sudden reversal from a widely-held view that a leadership change should wait at least until a new economic plan is announced on Oct. 31 to calm financial markets.
Late on Wednesday cabinet ministers were holding private conversations about whether the prime minister should quit, according to two people with knowledge of those talks. Asked if Truss's government can survive the night, one Tory MP replied: "I hope not."
In a statement sent at 1:33 a.m. Thursday, the prime minister's press secretary said she would be taking disciplinary action against MPs who'd voted against the government.
In just six weeks in office, Truss has already triggered a run on the pound, been bailed out by the Bank of England, abandoned almost her entire policy program and fired her closest political ally. Yet unbelievably, things were about to get even worse.
Tensions ran high all day in Westminster, as the government tried to fend off a Tory rebellion over the premier's controversial plan to restart shale gas fracking in the UK. But hours before the issue was due to go to vote, there was more sudden drama: Home Secretary Suella Braverman was fired, and Grant Shapps -- who had been openly plotting to oust Truss -- installed in her place.
It was a move that bore all the hallmarks of a premier out of control.
Even in the context of Truss's already tumultuous premiership, the evening's events in the House of Commons were extraordinary, adding a new level of public humiliation for those who have to defend the floundering prime minister. On Wednesday evening, it wasn't the political misjudgments, or the ideological rigidity that was on display, but the sheer amateurishness of the Truss operation, which turned a routine-looking vote into a potentially fatal debacle.
Fracking is a thorny issue for Conservative MPs, many of whom reject it due to fierce opposition in their districts. But it's also popular among Truss's base on the ideological right of the party, where it is seen as boosting energy security without promoting the green agenda that many of them oppose.
Truss's warning that any Conservative MP who voted against the government -- or even abstained -- would be kicked out of the parliamentary party was a risky move. The issue became entwined with broader discussions about how to bring the prime minister down.
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."
In the event, Truss won the vote by a routine-looking 326 votes to 230. But during and after the ballots were counted, the danger intensified, amid reports that potential rebels had been jostled by government aides.
As MPs lined up to cast their ballots, Truss's top parliamentary enforcer, Chief Whip Wendy Morton, announced she was quitting. Truss took her by the arm and followed Morton out of the voting lobbies, according to two people who witnessed the scene.
Morton's deputy, Craig Whittaker, also quit, other people said. Truss's office later said that he and Morton remained in post.
"I still believe that Liz can turn this around," Northern Ireland Secretary Steve Baker told ITV. "I know people will find that far-fetched."
Baker said that MPs who had defied the government on Wednesday night should be kicked out of the party, in theory at least. He signaled doubts as to whether No. 10 would follow through with that since excluding 40 rebels would cost the government its majority.
Those MPs can expect "proportionate disciplinary action," the prime minister's press secretary said.
Labour MP Chris Bryant demanded a parliamentary probe into whether MPs were bullied into voting for the government, saying: "I saw members being physically manhandled" into a voting lobby. He later told Sky News he'd seen Cabinet ministers Therese Coffey and Jacob Rees-Mogg among a group who appeared to corral an apparently reluctant Tory, Alexander Stafford.
But Rees-Mogg later told the same broadcaster there hadn't been any bullying or aggressive behavior, and Stafford himself issued a series of tweets pushing back against Bryant's account, saying: "no one pushes me around."
Hours before the disastrous events in the House of Commons unfolded, Truss had appeared in the same chamber for Prime Minister's Questions, knowing she needed a strong performance to have any chance of regaining authority.
"I'm a fighter and not a quitter," she said -- twice. But the subsequent events have done major damage to Truss's prospects, and Tory MPs are now queuing up to change her mind.
"It's a shambles and a disgrace. I think it is utterly appalling. I am livid," veteran Tory MP Charles Walker told the BBC. "I hope all those people that put Liz Truss in Number 10, I hope it was worth it. I hope it was worth it for the ministerial red box, I hope it was worth it to sit around the Cabinet table, because the damage they have done to our party is extraordinary."
David Frost, the former Brexit negotiator who was a prominent backer of Truss, wrote in the Telegraph newspaper she must "leave as soon as possible." Former government ministers Maria Caulfield and Johnny Mercer said they supported Walker's views.
After former Chancellor of the Exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng, Braverman is the second holder of one of the UK's so-called Great Offices of State she has fired. 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.
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.
The events of Wednesday have lit a fire under efforts to resolve the impasse, and there is a growing sense that Truss's short tenure in No. 10 may have entered its final phase.
"I actually want to apologize, I really am getting fed up with this soap drama as much as your listeners are," Tory MP Bob Seely told LBC Radio. "I'm frankly as bemused as everybody else is and I'm really unhappy with the situation."