'Trust me' says Truss after mini-budget causes havoc and as UK energy bills rise

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By Alasdair Sandford  with Reuters
British Prime Minister Liz Truss meets with Denmark's Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, in 10 Downing Street, London, Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022.
British Prime Minister Liz Truss meets with Denmark's Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, in 10 Downing Street, London, Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022.   -   Copyright  Dan Kitwood/Pool Photo via AP

The British prime minister has appealed to voters to "trust me", defending her government's policies after a disastrous week in which its mini-budget brought market turmoil and widespread condemnation, and the opposition romped to a 30-point lead in opinion polls.

Liz Truss has admitted that the announcement did cause "disruption", after the uncosted tax-cutting plan sparked a series of economic shocks. 

The pound crashed to a record low against the US dollar, borrowing costs soared, mortage lenders withdrew offers, the Bank of England was forced to intervene to protect pension funds from partial collapse, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) called on the UK to review its plans.

Writing in The Sun on Saturday, the prime minister acknowledged that "bills are high and people are scared", but insisted "the Government is on your side".

Her article comes on the day that energy prices rise for millions of households to levels that are twice as high as they were last winter — a typical bill goes up to £2,500 (€2,848) — although they are offset by rebates and a government cap on the cost per unit.

"If we had not stepped up, the cost would have been unthinkable and unforgivable," Truss wrote.

Claiming that "the status quo is not working", the prime minister — in office for just over three weeks after taking over from Boris Johnson — said she was "going to do things differently".

"It involves difficult decisions and does involve disruption in the short term. Not everyone will like what we are doing, but I want to reassure the public that the Government has a clear plan that I believe is right for the country," she added.

Tax cuts would be accompanied by a drive for growth, Truss said. "At the same time, we will keep an iron grip on the national finances as part of our commitment to sound money."

She also vowed to make the most of the UK's "new-found freedom" after Brexit and to get rid of "all the useless, EU-inspired red tape" by the end of next year.

Britain's Chancellor (finance minister) also went on the defensive, writing in The Telegraph that the government will make a new "commitment" to bring public spending under control. Kwasi Kwarteng vowed to publish a "credible" plan in November to reduce debt.

But he also doubled down on his mini-budget, writing that while some measures may not be universally popular "we had no other choice".

Kwarteng unveiled a string of lower taxes last week that were not accompanied by forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR). The unusual move is thought to have compounded last week's market turmoil.

Truss and Kwarteng met with the OBR on Friday and said they would publish its forecasts when another fiscal statement is produced on November 23.

"We are working closely with Bank of England. It's very important that monetary and fiscal policy is coordinated and I recognise there has been disruption," Truss told reporters during a visit in eastern England on Friday, when asked if she would accept it was largely a crisis of her own making.

The prime minister also promised in her newspaper article to "take back our energy independence", via new supply contracts, more gas fields in the North Sea and more nuclear energy.

On Saturday Truss met her Danish counterpart Mette Frederiksen in London and discussed what they agreed was "sabotage" to the Nord Stream gas pipelines, as well as wind power and security cooperation, her office said.

Truss' attempt to take the initiative comes two days after a YouGov opinion poll suggested the opposition Labour Party had surged to a 33-point lead. According to another YouGov poll, more than half (51%) of the population believe that Truss should resign, despite her short period in office. 

It all adds pressure on the new prime minister as she prepares for next week's Conservative Party conference.

Delegates heading to the event in Birmingham have not been helped by the largest rail strike this year on Saturday, as tens of thousands of workers walked out in disputes over pay and job security, shutting down most of the nation's railway network.

Thousands of Britons took to the streets on Saturday to protest against the cost of living crisis in the country, where inflation is around 10 percent. "Can't pay, won't pay", chanted protesters outside London's King's Cross station, burning fake energy bills.

According to the British press, letters of no confidence are already being drawn up against Liz Truss. Some Conservatives have been stunned by her budget announcements, while others reportedly regret the departure of Boris Johnson, despite a litany of scandals and his reputation as a serial liar.

Additional sources • AFP