As she rose to her feet in the Commons to announce her £150bn package to freeze energy bills, Liz Truss would have felt it was a potentially defining moment for her premiership.
If the announcement went well, skeptical Tory MPs had suggested, it would buy her time to get on with the job of governing. If not, her time at No 10 would be over before it began.
But moments later that bit of Westminster wisdom was firmly turned on its head as one of her senior ministers whispered in her ear that the Queen was gravely ill.
Suddenly, the address that Truss had hoped would mark a bold, ambitious beginning turned into a footnote in a day that will forever be remembered for the end of a reign.
Now, Truss has a new challenge that could make or break her premiership. As prime minister, her first and most pressing task was to reassure the nation in a televised address shortly after Buckingham Palace confirmed that the queen, who for so long represented stability and order to her people, had died.
Her voice shaking ever so slightly with emotion, she paid solemn tribute to the monarch, describing her as “the rock on which modern Britain was built”, whose death was a “huge shock” to the country and the world. He said the Queen’s sense of duty was a “personal inspiration” to her and many other Britons, adding: “She was the very spirit of Great Britain and that spirit will endure.”
In the coming days, Truss will have some constitutional responsibilities representing the government with the palace, but her main task will be to ensure that the gears of the state continue to turn smoothly as the well-tested plans for now are put into place. . Any slip-ups will be frowned upon by the many people who see the Queen as little more than an institution.
It should also play a leading role on the world stage, with the world’s media turning their collective lens on the royal family and the country at large, and tributes from Commonwealth and world leaders traveling to the UK to pay their respects their.
Many in Westminster believe that Truss – who was poised and presentable in a way that her predecessor Boris Johnson was not, and well versed in diplomatic protocol from her time at the Foreign Office – is up to the task.
This period will also, they whisper behind their hands, give her some much-needed public recognition as she is pushed to the fore, after focus groups suggested the Tories’ arduous long leadership this summer failed to register with huge swaths of the electorate.
But the Queen’s death deprives the new prime minister of the opportunity to carry out the widely publicized “shock and awe” campaign to highlight her hold on government, starting with the energy package but planned to follow up with a policy blast including tax cuts and cuts. paperwork in the coming weeks. That ambition is now long on hold.
The Commons is expected to meet on Friday so MPs can pay their respects to the Queen, but once they are done, parliament will be suspended while 10 days of official mourning are observed. Government business will continue during this time, but officials stressed that this will be limited to essential work and there will be no announcements, except in the case of an emergency.
Truss’ first 100 days in office had been mapped out by her team, but aides will tear up those plans and start over. The planned emergency budget setting out how he intends to steer the country through the stormy economic waters ahead, as well as details of how the government will prop up an NHS on its knees, will have to wait.
There is also a question mark over foreign visits on the calendar, in Dublin to try to reach an agreement on the thorny issue of the Northern Ireland protocol and in New York for the UN general assembly and – the 10 aides were not hoping – talks with Joe Biden .
Beyond that, the season of party conferences is upon us, where the prospect of the usual boxing and partisanship sits uncomfortably with the idea of a nation still grieving. Truss must regard this as a moment of possible danger, for he will have to judge the public mood.
With her plans for her first days in office so dramatically out of line, expectations of her, from the Tory party and the wider public, will be higher than ever. But with the country still reeling from a cost-of-living crisis despite government steps to help, the stakes for Liz Truss have never been higher.