Rishi Sunak becomes third British Prime Minister of the year

The third Conservative prime minister this year, he will also try to unite a governing party that is riven with divisions.

October 25, 2022 02:27 pm | Updated October 29, 2022 08:40 pm IST - LONDON

Britain’s newly appointed Prime Minister Rishi Sunak poses outside the door to 10 Downing Street in central London, on October 25, 2022, after delivering his first speech as Prime Minister.

Britain’s newly appointed Prime Minister Rishi Sunak poses outside the door to 10 Downing Street in central London, on October 25, 2022, after delivering his first speech as Prime Minister. | Photo Credit: AFP

Tuesday was a historic day for the United Kingdom, which got its first ever non-white Prime Minister in Rishi Sunak, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer and Britain’s youngest Prime Minister in recent times.  

Mr. Sunak, 42, is of Indian descent and was born to parents who migrated to Britain from East Africa. The former investment banker and hedge fund manager will have the daunting task of trying to get the British economy back on the rails while attempting to unite the Conservative Party which has produced three Prime Ministers in under two months.

Also read: New U.K. PM Rishi Sunak retains Finance, Foreign and Defence Ministers, re-appoints Suella Braverman as Interior Minister

“Rishi Sunak becoming the first British Indian Prime Minister is an historic moment. This simply would not have been possible even a decade or two ago,” Sunder Katwala, director of  British Future,  a think tank that works in the area of identity and race, wrote on Monday when Mr. Sunak became Prime Minister-designate.

“This will be a source of pride to many British Asians — including many who do not share Rishi Sunak’s Conservative politics,” he said.

Mr. Sunak is married to an Indian citizen, Akshata Murty, who is the daughter of Infosys founder N.R. Narayana Murthy, and they have two daughters.  He was chosen by his fellow Conservative MPs to lead the party and country, following former Prime Minister Liz Truss’s announcement last Thursday that she was resigning, having lost the support of her fellow MPs after a failed ‘mini budget’ that deeply rattled markets.

“Rishi Sunak has been crowned by Tory MPs. It’s a coronation not an election,” Angela Rayner, deputy leader of the Labour Party tweeted on Monday. “He has no mandate and the British people have had no say. #GeneralElectionNow,” she said.

Standing outside No.10 Downing Street shortly after being appointed by King Charles III around noon on Tuesday, Mr. Sunak vowed to bring stability to a country beleaguered by a cost of living crisis and a lack of stable leadership.

“I will place economic stability and confidence at the heart of this government’s agenda,” he said, adding that his government would be run with “integrity, professionalism and accountability”.  

Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s scandal-ridden government had collapsed in July leading to Ms. Truss replacing him after she beat Mr. Sunak in a vote by Conservative Party members.  

Ms. Truss, who had been in office just 49 days, defended her policy decisions in a speech on the way out of Downing Street on Tuesday morning. The new Prime Minister said he admired Ms. Truss’s  “restlessness” and that her goal of creating economic growth was “noble”.

“But some mistakes were made,” he said, as he vowed to improve the National Health Service and control borders. Mr. Sunak is a supporter of the Johnson government’s plan to send certain asylum seekers from Britain to Rwanda.  He also voted for Brexit in 2016 (i.e., Britain to leave the European Union) and said on Monday that he would deliver on the Conservative manifesto promise of embracing the “opportunities of Brexit”.

The Sunday Times Rich list estimated Mr. Sunak and Ms. Murty’s financial worth — the overwhelming share of which is hers — at GBP 730 million. Accused of being out of touch with the common man’s problems because of his wealth, Mr. Sunak , who won praise for overseeing the COVID-19 lockdown-related financial assistance as Chancellor, said he would “bring that same compassion” to the current challenges the U.K. faces. However, he cautioned that there were limits to what could be done, especially now.

Soon after being appointed to the top job, Mr. Sunak began a Cabinet reshuffle while retaining some Ministers in their posts. Dominic Raab — a steadfast supporter of his through the summer campaign — was appointed Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary.

James Cleverly was reappointed Foreign Secretary. Earlier in the day, Mr. Cleverly had made calls to several of his counterparts, including External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar. Kemi Badenoch remains International Trade Secretary.

On Mr. Sunak’s to-do list will be overseeing his government completing a trade deal with India, which has proved challenging, partly due to the controversial comments on migration made by Suella Braverman, the Truss government’s Home Secretary, in addition to reported interference from Ms. Truss. Significantly, Mr. Sunak re-appointed Ms. Braverman to her former role on Tuesday afternoon.

Jeremy Hunt, Ms. Truss’s second Chancellor, was re-appointed to his post and Ben Wallace was re-appointed Defence Secretary, Downing Street announced.

On Wednesday, Mr. Sunak will appear in Parliament for his first Prime Minister’s Questions.

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