Baptism of fire for UK’s new finance minister Kwasi Kwarteng

LONDON: Kwasi Kwarteng has been finance minister for less than a month but is already in the firing line as Britain’s economy teeters on the brink following his first policy announcement.

The 47-year-old free-marketeer last week announced sweeping tax cuts, spooking currency and bond markets concerned about his mammoth spending commitments, and earning a rebuke from the IMF.

Kwarteng is a close ally of Liz Truss, who in September won the race to become prime minister following the resignation of scandal-hit Boris Johnson.

She was voted in by Conservative members on a promise to cut taxes, plans that her rival Rishi Sunak, who was finance minister under Johnson, said were a recipe for disaster in the face of spiralling inflation.

Kwarteng’s devout belief in liberal economics made him the obvious choice to carry out her plans, despite the warnings.

The pair were also at the forefront of urgent moves to help millions of Britons suffering under the strain of rocketing energy prices that have pushed inflation in the United Kingdom to a 40-year high.

Those spending plans allied with the tax cuts sent sterling plunging to its lowest-ever value against the dollar earlier this week, as critics decried the government’s “KamiKwasi” economics.

COMMITTED THATCHERITE

“There is lots of pressure on Kwasi Kwarteng,” said Tony Travers, a professor at the London School of Economics, who described the minister as a “committed Thatcherite” in reference to former leader and free-market proponent Margaret Thatcher.

“He might have started out as believing in a smaller state and a more deregulated economy, but he’s living in a world where the public expects almost exactly the opposite,” Travers told AFP.

An enthusiastic backer of Brexit, Kwarteng replaced Iraqi-born Nadhim Zahawi, who lasted only two months as chancellor.

Zahawi took over from Sunak, who resigned as finance minister in opposition to Johnson before then losing out to Truss in the contest for 10 Downing Street.

Four years before the 2016 Brexit vote, Kwarteng joined with Truss and other Tory right-wingers to write a free-market manifesto called Britannia Unchained, which described British workers as “among the worst idlers in the world”.