Former finance minister Rishi Sunak has been chosen to become Britain’s next prime minister, the third person to assume the mantle this year with the hopes of soothing the political and economic omnishambles left behind from Liz Truss’ brief tenure, after she replaced Boris Johnson.
Sunak, 42, is a relative newcomer to British politics but has risen rapidly through the ranks of the Conservative Party and was elected as a Member of Parliament (MP) for the Yorkshire seat of Richmond in 2015.
Since entering Parliament in 2015, he backed Brexit and was named finance minister in 2020 having only entered government as a junior minister in the housing ministry in 2018 and joining the treasury as second-in-command to the finance minister in 2019.
Sunak was promoted to finance minister in 2020, just before the pandemic, and his economic support schemes during lockdown gained him widespread recognition and public support.
He was widely viewed as a surefire contender to replace Johnson as Conservative leader one day, though his popularity plummeted following a series of politically unpopular policies, involvement in the lawbreaking “Partygate” scandal of government rule breaking during lockdown and after news emerged that his wealthy wife avoided millions in tax by claiming non-domicile status.
Sunak kick-started the spate of government resignations that ultimately ousted Johnson and was runner up to Truss in the race to replace him with a campaign slogan of “Ready for Rishi” (evidently, voters were not ready).
Sunak, born in Southampton in the south of England to parents of Indian origin who emigrated to the U.K. from east Africa, will be the youngest prime minister in more than 200 years and the country’s first South Asian leader.
Truss abruptly resigned as prime minister last week after just six weeks on the job, the shortest tenure in British history. Her departure, following weeks of financial turmoil from her fiscal policies and constant political u-turning, kicked-off another contest to select the leader of the Conservative Party, who will go on to be prime minister. The rules require contenders to garner support of 100 MPs to back their claim, effectively limiting the field to three candidates. Penny Mordaunt, the leader of the House of Commons and runner up to Sunak and Truss in the last contest, pulled out of the race to replace Truss minutes before nominations were due to close. Former Prime Minister Johnson, whose ousting led to Truss’ premiership, was widely tipped to throw his hat in the ring. He never formally announced his intention to do so, however, though a number of lawmakers nevertheless flocked to his banner (it is unclear whether support was strong enough to secure him a slot on the ballot to dues paying Party members). On Sunday, Johnson said he would not pursue leadership again, leaving Sunak the clear favorite.
$4.5 billion. That’s the estimated net worth of N.R. Narayana Murthy, an Indian programmer who co-founded tech giant Infosys, according to Forbes’ real time tracker. Murthy’s daughter, Akshata Murthy, married Sunak after the two met when working towards an MBA at Stanford University.
What We Don’t Know
If Sunak is enough to calm the political storm. Sunak is a divisive figure within his own party, which could make gaining enough support to rule difficult. Strife within the Conservative Party over picking another leader, exemplified by the potential return of Johnson, the Tories’ incredible unpopularity in polls and the prospect of installing a third prime minister without another election has opposition parties and the public clamoring for another general election. Constitutionally, any prime minister that can command a majority in the House of Commons has a right to serve in the U.K. until the next general election and there are no set dates for these. Under current rules, the next election can be held no later than January 2025 and the Tories are not obligated to do so until then. They are unlikely to do so as polls project a devastating defeat, possibly so bad as to push the Conservatives out of opposition as well as government. To call an election, a prime minister must formally seek one from King Charles III or the government must lose either a formal confidence motion or a vote it has billed as a confidence issue.
What To Watch For
King Charles III will ask Truss’ replacement to form a new government in his name. This will be the first time he has done so since taking the throne, as Truss took office days before his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, died.