Rishi Sunak, a super-rich banker worth more than $800 million, has been installed as Britain’s third prime minister this year King Charles III, coming after the humiliated Lizz Truss left office after just 49 days, with the new premier inheriting a daunting array of problems.
The 42-year-old Hindu is Britain’s first prime minister of color and the youngest in more than two centuries. President Joe Biden called the choice “groundbreaking”.
Sunak addressed the nation outside 10 Downing Street after his appointment by King Charles III, capping the latest extraordinary twist in UK politics following Boris Johnson’s demise in July.
“I will unite our country — not with words, but with action,” the former finance minister said, pledging also unstinting support for Ukraine even while warning of “difficult” budget choices ahead.
Sunak said a disastrous budget that felled Truss was motivated by a well-intentioned desire to kick-start growth, but its tax-cutting measures were “mistakes nonetheless”.
“And I have been elected as leader of my party and your prime minister in part to fix them,” he said.
“And that work begins immediately. I will place economic stability and confidence at the heart of this government’s agenda.”
Departing Downing Street shortly before, Truss wished Sunak “every success” — and said she remained “more convinced than ever” that Britain needed to be “bold” in confronting the challenges it faced.
Sunak became the ruling Conservatives’ new leader on Monday after triumphing over rival contender Penny Mordaunt who failed to secure enough nominations from Tory MPs, and ex-premier Boris Johnson who dramatically aborted a comeback attempt.
Breaking his silence, Johnson offered his “full and wholehearted support” to Sunak — having blamed his ex-minister for toppling him in July.
How rich is he?
According to a report by The Times of London, it’s estimated that Mr Sunak and his wife, Akshata Murty, are worth more than $800 million. This means they are among the 300 wealthiest people in Britain.
He previously served as former Chancellor of the Exchequer, the UK’s version of Finance minister from 2020 to 2022, and as Chief Secretary to the Treasury from 2019 to 2020.
Most of Mr Sunak’s wealth comes from his wife, the daughter of an Indian Software billionaire and Infosys founder, Mr N. R. Narayana Murthy.
‘Unite or die’
Following news that he would be succeeding Ms Truss, Britain’s Conservative-supporting media hailed Sunak’s appointment.
“The force is with you, Rishi,” ran The Sun’s headline, in a reference to Sunak’s love of “Star Wars” films. The Daily Mail called it “a new dawn for Britain”.
But the left-leaning Guardian highlighted Sunak’s warning to Conservative MPs that the party must “unite or die“.
Truss left office as the shortest-serving premier in history, after a calamitous tax-slashing budget sparked economic and political turmoil.
The 47-year-old announced her resignation last Thursday, admitting she could not deliver her mandate from Conservative members — who had chosen her over Sunak in the summer.
He has now staged a stunning turnaround in political fortunes, and vowed to do the same for Britain as it confronts decades-high inflation, surging borrowing costs and imminent recession.
But he also faces the uphill task of uniting a party riven with divisions and infighting.
Gavin Williamson, who served as a minister in the Tory governments of both Theresa May and Johnson, said the party was in the “last chance saloon” on unity.
Iain Duncan Smith, a former Conservative leader, added that MPs now understood the “existential threat” facing the Tories and that they needed to unite or accept being “out of power for a long time”.
After delivering the now all-too-familiar new leader’s speech, Sunak will start appointing his top team before facing his first session of “Prime Minister’s Questions” in parliament on Wednesday.
Finance minister Jeremy Hunt — appointed by Truss just 11 days ago in a bid to salvage her premiership — could remain in the role after stabilising the markets.
He endorsed Sunak on Sunday, writing in the Telegraph that he was a leader “willing to make the choices necessary for our long-term prosperity”.
After reversing almost all of Truss’s various tax cuts, Hunt has warned “difficult decisions” loom over public spending.
Whoever heads the Treasury is set to unveil the government’s much-anticipated fiscal plans on October 31.
Sunak must also decide whether to appoint to his cabinet senior MPs who did not support him, such as Mordaunt, in a bid to unify his fractured party.
One unlikely to get a seat around the table is former boss Johnson, who was driven out in July partly thanks to Sunak’s resignation.
On Sunday he announced he would not go forward with his audacious leadership bid.
Sunak, a wealthy descendant of immigrants from India and East Africa, is also facing calls for a general election after becoming the latest leader who lacks a direct mandate from the electorate.
Pollster Ipsos said Monday that 62 percent of voters want a vote by the end of the year.
“He has no mandate, no answers and no ideas,” Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner tweeted.
Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrats, welcomed the country getting its first British Asian leader but also insisted it was time for a general election.
“Given the Conservatives have trashed the economy… I guess one’s not surprised that they’re scared of the British public,” he told Times Radio.
The next election is not due until January 2025 at the latest and opposition parties have no way to force one, unless dozens of Conservative MPs acquiesce.
That appears unlikely as a flurry of polls show Labor with its largest lead in decades.