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Britain's prime minister speaks up after being silent around sudden economy issues

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Over the past week, Great Britain has faced a sudden economic shock. The country's currency fell over the weekend to a record low. And to her critics, the country's new prime minister, Liz Truss, seems to be part of the problem, as Willem Marx reports from London.

WILLEM MARX, BYLINE: Liz Truss took up her post as prime minister thanks to a tiny fraction of the British population - a vote amongst Conservative Party members. She never even had the support of a majority of her own legislators. And now, this week, after the introduction of a raft of economic policies, some have started to both publicly and privately criticize their leadership. It all started last Friday, when her government promised lower taxes on individual income, property transactions and corporate revenues. The intention was to trigger higher growth rates, In Truss's words, to unleash the U.K.'s talent, essentially to encourage a form of trickle-down economics. But the effort immediately backfired. And throughout this week, the fallout has been not just financial, but political, too. So after nearly a week of silence, Truss spent this morning in damage control mode, doing interviews with local radio hosts who put listeners' questions to her in exchanges that often turn tense.

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(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: Lydia says, are you ashamed of what you've done? Are you?

PRIME MINISTER LIZ TRUSS: I think we have to remember what situation this country was facing. We were going into the winter with people expected to face fuel bills of up to 6,000 pounds, huge rates of inflation.

UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: And you've made it worse.

TRUSS: And also, slowing economic growth.

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MARX: Her finance minister, Kwasi Kwarteng, also addressed the public today. He was asked whether his pronouncements, what he termed a mini-budget, had constituted an economic disaster.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KWASI KWARTENG: The mini-budget was absolutely essential in resetting the debate around growth and focusing us on delivering much better growth outcomes for our people.

MARX: The Bank of England has promised to prop up government bonds by buying billions of dollars of them. The bank will also have to raise interest rates further, driving up mortgage costs for Britain's homeowners. And economists say that those higher costs will mean the government's newly announced measures like tax cuts and energy subsidies may soon become meaningless for many families' finances. For NPR News, I'm Willem Marx in London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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