Rishi Sunak will on Tuesday be installed as Britain’s third prime minister this year, replacing the humiliated Liz Truss after just seven weeks and inheriting a daunting array of problems.
Sunak became the ruling Conservatives’ new leader on Monday after rival contender Penny Mordaunt failed to secure enough nominations from Tory MPs, and ex-premier Boris Johnson dramatically aborted a comeback bid.
The 42-year-old Hindu will be Britain’s first prime minister of colour and the youngest in more than two centuries.
President Joe Biden called the choice of Sunak as Britain’s first non-white prime minister “groundbreaking”.
Sunak will take power in a morning audience with King Charles III — who is anointing his first prime minister since ascending the throne following the death of his mother Queen Elizabeth II.
Truss will hold a final cabinet meeting before making a departing statement in Downing Street at around 10:15 am (0915 GMT).
Sunak is expected to speak just over an hour later.
– ‘Unite or die’ –
Britain’s Conservative-supporting media hailed Sunak’s appointment.
“The force is with you, Rishi,” ran The Sun’s headline, as the Daily Mail called it “a new dawn for Britain”.
But the left-leaning Guardian highlighted Sunak’s warning to MPs that the party must “unite or die”.
Truss leaves 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 governments of both Theresa May and Boris Johnson, said the party was in the “last chance saloon” on unity.
“If it can’t unite behind this government you’re going to have an early general election,” he told BBC radio.
MPs would have to get behind the prime minister and “deliver the stable competent government that… the country needs at this moment of crisis”, he said.
– ‘Choices’ –
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 his former boss Johnson, who was driven out in July partly thanks to Sunak’s resignation.
Johnson on Sunday announced he would not move forward with his audacious comeback bid.
– ‘No mandate’ –
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.
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 Labour with its largest lead in decades.