Pressures continue to mount on the Prime Minister to resign.

After weeks of seemingly endless revelations about alleged lockdown breaches in  Westminster, letters of no confidence have begun to circulate, and yesterday saw a Conservative MP defect to Labour shortly before Prime Minister’s Questions.

In a dramatic statement this morning, senior Tory William Wragg accused Number 10 of “blackmailing” potential rebels by threatening to withdraw funding for their constituencies and to leak damaging stories to the press.

As the future of Boris Johnson’s premiership becomes increasingly uncertain, The National takes a closer look at some of the frontrunners for his replacement - and what they might mean for Wales.

LIZ TRUSS

The bookies’ second favourite to replace Boris Johnson, a recent poll by Conservative Home put Liz Truss as the preferred choice of party members. Were she to take over, she would be the Tories’ third female Prime Minister.

Over her twelve years in Parliament, the South Norfolk MP has served in seven Cabinet roles under three Prime Ministers, in departments ranging from education to justice. She was made Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in late 2021, taking over from an embattled Dominic Raab.

Alongside her role as Foreign Secretary, Truss remains the Minister for Women and Equalities. Criticised for leaning into Conservative “culture war” tendencies, the Minister has overseen the push for public sector bodies to cut ties with leading LGBTQ charity Stonewall, and in 2020 scrapped planned reforms to the Gender Recognition Act which would have simplified the gender recognition process for trans people. 

The National Wales: Liz Truss, Foreign Secretary (Picture: PA Wire)Liz Truss, Foreign Secretary (Picture: PA Wire)

In a December 2020 speech, Truss railed against “affirmative action” and the concept of “unconscious bias”, accusing the political left wing of undermining equality by “failing to defend single-sex spaces” and “turning a blind eye” to the grooming of young girls in Rotherham.

In reference to her own school years in Leeds, the Minister added: “While we were taught about racism and sexism, there was too little time spent making sure everyone could read and write.”

READ MORE: 33 years on we can’t let Section 28 happen again

These positions are at odds with Welsh Government policy. In its LGBTQ+ Action Plan, the government says it will seek devolved powers for the Gender Recognition Act, in order to “support our trans community” - though it’s unclear what precise changes Drakeford et al intend to make.

The Welsh Government has also recently introduced a new educational curriculum, part of which includes mandatory education on Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic history.

Firmly on the Thatcherite wing of the Conservative Party, Truss is a member of the Free Enterprise Group of Conservative MPs, alongside Home Secretary Priti Patel, Justice Secretary Dominic Raab, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng and Kingswood MP Chris Skidmore.

The National Wales: Liz Truss is in favour of cutting regulations and business taxes (Picture: PA Wire)Liz Truss is in favour of cutting regulations and business taxes (Picture: PA Wire)

The group published a book, Britannia Unchained, in 2012, which argued that the UK should strip back employment laws, regulation and corporation tax, to pursue a more radical version of Margaret Thatcher’s free market economics. Most memorably, the book argued that “the British are among the worst idlers in the world.”

Before her appointment as Foreign Secretary, Truss served as International Trade Secretary, finalising trade deals with Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. This didn’t win her many friends amongst Welsh farmers, who argued that the trade agreements would undercut their business by flooding the UK with cheap food imports, while providing little opportunity for farmers to export overseas themselves.

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Glyn Roberts, president of the Farmers Union of Wales, said of the New Zealand deal in October: “The UK Government’s own figures show that the economic benefits for the UK of this deal are microscopic.

 “The winners in this deal will clearly be New Zealand, as it allows them to up their exports of food to the UK, representing a major threat to Welsh and GB farmers as well as to our food security.” 

What does her voting record tell us? 

Truss has consistently voted against devolving further powers to the governments of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Back in 2016, when provisions of what would become the Wales Act (2017) were being debated, she followed her party in voting against granting the Senedd powers over areas like income tax, alcohol and entertainment licensing, and policing. 

According to the website TheyWorkForYou, the minister has never voted against the Conservative Party line. 

 

RISHI SUNAK

The Chancellor of the Exchequer caused a stir this week, when he appeared to walk out of a Sky News interview after being asked about his support for the Prime Minister.

Bookmakers place Rishi Sunak as the frontrunner if the PM steps down, but the Conservative Home poll of party members put him in second place, behind Liz Truss. 

A former Goldman Sachs banker and hedge fund manager, Sunak was elected as MP for Richmond, Yorkshire, in 2015. Along with his own multi-million pound fortune, his marriage to Ashkata Murthy, the venture capitalist daughter of billionaire N.R Narayana Murthy, means that Sunak is considered the wealthiest man in the House of Commons.

The National Wales: Rishi Sunak announces the October 2021 budget (Picture: PA Wire)Rishi Sunak announces the October 2021 budget (Picture: PA Wire)

Serving as Chief Secretary to the Treasury for six months under his former Goldman Sachs boss, Sajid Javid, he was promoted to Chancellor of the Exchequer in February 2020, shortly before the Covid pandemic took hold. 

Like Liz Truss, the Chancellor is known to be an enthusiastic proponent of Thatcher-style, low tax, low public spending economic policy. He was a supporter of Brexit. The pandemic, however, has seen Sunak make uncharacteristic choices that nonetheless boosted his public approval.

Following pressure from the shadow front benches in March 2020, the Chancellor announced the furlough scheme, which aimed to prevent unemployment rises in Covid-hit sectors like hospitality by funding employee wages while businesses closed. 

In his March 2021 budget, Mr Sunak again did the unthinkable, hiking corporation tax to 25 percent - the first corporation tax rise in around 47 years.

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That move, along with the announcement of a new Treasury HQ in the north of England, sparked speculation that he had “borrowed” ideas from former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, but McDonnell was quick to dismiss the claim as “all rhetoric and no substance”, pointing out that gaps in Covid support had meant millions of self-employed people and precarious workers - previously employed through agencies or platforms like Uber - had been left financially devastated by the crisis. 

Indeed, Sunak’s decision to freeze income tax thresholds has meant tax rises for low and middle-income workers, while his £20 per week cut to Universal Credit last year was described as “cold”, “heartless”, and “diabolical" by one Rhyl benefit recipient in an interview with the BBC.

The National Wales: Rishi Sunak has made uncharacteristic spending choices as Chancellor, but many have criticised significant gaps in Covid support (Picture: PA Wire)Rishi Sunak has made uncharacteristic spending choices as Chancellor, but many have criticised significant gaps in Covid support (Picture: PA Wire)

Leaders in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland issued a joint call for the Chancellor to reverse the Universal Credit cut, expressing “grave concerns” about the impact of the move on child poverty - to no avail. The Welsh Trades Union Congress estimated that the benefit cut would impact around 280,000 people in Wales.

The Chancellor caused further controversy when he refused to allocate the Welsh Government extra funding to stabilise disused coal tips. Welsh Counsel General, Mick Antoniw, commented recently: “The UK Government has clearly abdicated - I think, quite shamefully - any responsibility in respect of the pre-devolution legacy of the coal industry.”

It was once reported that Mr Sunak suggested to colleagues that England should “break away” from the United Kingdom because the Union “doesn’t make financial sense”. The claim was quickly and pointedly denied.

 

 

What does his voting record tell us? 

Like Liz Truss, Sunak has been doggedly loyal to the Conservative Party whip - rebelling only once, accidentally, in a vote on whether to ban the import of chlorinated chicken.

JEREMY HUNT

A slightly more outside contender, the former Health Secretary told The House magazine this week that his leadership ambitions hadn’t “completely vanished”, but that it would “take a lot” to convince him to challenge the PM. 

Hunt previously ran for leader following the resignation of Theresa May in 2019, coming in second to Boris Johnson. He faced criticism when it was revealed that his campaign had been funded by a close ally of Saudi prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

The South West Surrey MP has been in office since 2005, serving as Culture Secretary - during which time he cut S4C funding - and Foreign Secretary during the May and Cameron governments, alongside his controversial time overseeing Health.

The National Wales: Jeremy Hunt, 2021 (Picture: PA Wire)Jeremy Hunt, 2021 (Picture: PA Wire)

The longest serving Health Secretary in UK history, Hunt positioned himself as a champion of “patient safety”, defending the universal health coverage offered by the NHS after the model was criticised by Donald Trump.

He has made several high-profile interventions during the Covid crisis; most notably in his role as chair of the Health and Social Care Select Committee in Parliament, where he questioned Dominic Cummings over the government’s response to the pandemic.

READ MORE: Will social care agenda make Jeremy Hunt PM? 

He said of Boris Johnson this week: “I wouldn’t have made some of his mistakes, but I'm sure I'd have made different mistakes.”

His tenure as Health Secretary, however, was marked by historically low NHS funding increases - around four times less than the minimum recommended by even the savings conscious Office for Budget Responsibility - and pressure for hospitals in England to meet strict financial targets “without compromising patient care”. Those that didn’t meet targets were fined.

The National Wales: Mr Hunt has made a number of high-profile interventions on the government's Covid policy (Picture: PA Wire)Mr Hunt has made a number of high-profile interventions on the government's Covid policy (Picture: PA Wire)

As a result, A&E waiting times rose, and many hospital treatments were “rationed”, with thousands of patients denied cataract operations, knee and hip surgery, and fertility treatment.

Hunt came further under fire following the collapse of notorious construction giant Carillion, when The Guardian revealed that his office had successfully lobbied to stop the company’s failing hospital building projects from being scrutinised by an independent watchdog.

Hunt co-authored a 2005 book calling for the NHS to be replaced with a US-style private insurance system.

READ MORE: 'Continued cuts to S4C will mean less drama, more repeats and fewer viewers'

Asked about Wales at a 2019 leadership campaign event in Cardiff, he commented: “I think I have spoken more passionately than anyone in this campaign about the importance of the union to me. 

“I am a quarter Welsh, my family come from Mold and if I become Prime Minister I'll put Mold on the map."

What does his voting record tell us? 

Jeremy Hunt has rebelled against his party on a handful of occasions - most notably in early votes on gay marriage, and more recently, by opposing the government’s cuts to international aid.

Like Sunak and Truss, however, Hunt has consistently voted against further devolution.

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