Boris Johnson bows out as British PM, Liz Truss to take over

LONDON - Boris Johnson bowed out as British prime minister on Tuesday, ending a tumultuous three years in office and bequeathing his successor Liz Truss a daunting list of problems to tackle.

Johnson, who was forced out of office by his own Conservative Party over a series of scandals, urged the country to come together and back his successor.

After making a farewell speech outside Downing Street, he left London to travel to Scotland and tender his resignation to Queen Elizabeth. Truss will then be appointed prime minister and start to form a government.

The 47-year-old Truss is tasked with steering Britain through a looming lengthy recession and an energy crisis that threatens the finances of millions of households and businesses.

Her plan to boost the economy through tax cuts while providing tens of billions of pounds to cap energy costs has already badly rattled financial markets, prompting investors to dump the pound and government bonds.

"What I say to my fellow Conservatives, it's time for politics to be over, folks," Johnson said in his speech. "It's time for us all to get behind Liz Truss and her team and her programme."

Truss will be the fourth Conservative prime minister in six years. She confronts the latest crisis to buffet Britain with a weaker political hand than many of her predecessors after she defeated rival Rishi Sunak in a vote of Conservative Party members with a smaller margin of victory than expected, and after she initially failed to be the top choice for her lawmakers.

She has promised to take "bold action" to get the country through the tough times, including cutting taxes despite a warning that that would exacerbate Britain's inflation rate, at 10.1% already the highest of any leading economy.

Johnson, who fought to stay in office until the end, used his departure speech to boast of his successes, including an early vaccine programme during the pandemic and his early support for Ukraine.

The speech was full of the bombast and jokes characteristic of a man once loved by much of British public but also loathed by many.

Having refused to rule out a return to the top job one day, he also indicated he was still bruised by the nature of his departure.

"The torch will finally be passed to a new Conservative leader," he said. "The baton will be handed over in what has unexpectedly turned out to be a relay race. They changed the rules halfway through but never mind that now."

Truss will follow Johnson to Scotland and be asked to form a government by Queen Elizabeth. She will then address the country and start appointments to her team of ministers later on Tuesday.

Britain, under Conservative rule since 2010, has stumbled from crisis to crisis in recent years and there is now the prospect of a long recession, and further increases in inflation, plus a weakening pound.

The most pressing issue is the energy crisis.

Household bills are due to jump by 80 percent in October, but a source familiar with the situation has told Reuters that Truss is looking at freezing bills this winter, in a plan that could cost more than the COVID-19 furlough scheme.

Britain's public finances remain weighed down by the government's huge coronavirus spending spree. Public debt as a share of economic output is not far off 100 percent, up from about 80 percent before pandemic.