Rishi Sunak becomes prime minister after meeting King Charles

Youngest PM for 200 years becomes nation’s third political leader in just seven weeks

Adam Forrest
Tuesday 25 October 2022 12:11 BST
Rishi Sunak arrives at Buckingham Palace to meet King Charles

Rishi Sunak has become the UK’s third prime minister in seven weeks after accepting an invitation by King Charles III to form a government.

The new PM entered Downing Street as the UK’s first Hindu prime minister, the first of Asian heritage, and the youngest for more than 200 years at the age of 42.

Speaking outside No 10, Mr Sunak told the nation he would “unite the country” and vowed to “fix” the economic mistakes made by his predecessor Liz Truss.

Mr Sunak claimed the mandate from the Tories’ 2019 election win belongs to the party rather than being the “sole property” of Boris Johnson.

Ms Truss doubled down on her radical agenda in an unrepentant final speech at No 10 – calling for “lower taxes” and warning Mr Sunak against a “low-growth economy”.

Ms Truss was forced out after just seven weeks – the shortest-serving PM in history – after her disastrous mini-Budget sparked market turmoil and crashed Tory poll numbers.

The new PM is expected to keep Jeremy Hunt as chancellor and stick to the 31 October date for the government’s debt reduction plan, as he prepares to announce his first cabinet.

He is expected to include some high-profile supporters of Ms Truss and Mr Johnson in cabinet – with right-wingers Suella Braverman and Kemi Badenoch tipped for roles, along with Sunak loyalists such as Oliver Dowden and Dominic Raab.

Mr Sunak has ruled out a general election, despite growing calls from opposition parties and campaigners for the public to have their say on another change of leadership.

Labour warned of the further “chaos” ahead, saying Mr Sunak could be forced out as Tory leader within six months by disgruntled Boris Johnson loyalists.

“The Conservative party is a sclerotic mess,” shadow health secretary Wes Streeting told the BBC. “And who’s to say Rishi Sunak isn’t going to be out in six months’ time because you can hear the knives sharpening in Westminster of the disgruntled Borisites.”

It comes as some Tory supporters have cancelled their memberships after Mr Sunak was named as Ms Truss’s successor without the grassroots having any say – with one saying they felt the party had been “destroyed from within”.

Tamara Wood, chair of Telford Conservative Association, said she was angry at the Sunak “coronation” after being installed by MPs alone. “I have to say the membership, the officers, and some of our current counsellors and candidates are very unhappy,” she told Radio 4’s Today programme.

Ben Harris-Quinney, head of the right-wing Bow Group think tank, said tens of thousands of members will leave the party. “The fact that it was a coronation is a terrible advert for the Conservative Party and the nation,” he wrote in The Telegraph.

Meanwhile, CBI boss Tony Danker said Mr Sunak must avoid a “doom loop” of austerity cuts, as he prepares to set out how a £40bn black hole in the public finances will be filled.

Opposition parties and unions have also warned against frontline cuts, after Mr Hunt said he faces “eye-wateringly difficult” decisions. The chancellor has reportedly asked Whitehall departments outside of health and defence to find cuts of 15 per cent.

Tory MP Victoria Atkins, a Sunak backer, refused to be drawn on whether he will push ahead with the debt plan announced by Mr Hunt last week. Ms Atkins described the new PM as a “compassionate but fiscally prudent Conservative”.

Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said Mr Sunak must “make it clear” to the party that it “can no longer indulge in debates about policy”.

Mr Sunak also faces huge challenges with the Ukraine war and resolving the post-Brexit row with the EU over the protocol, with a deadline to resolve powersharing impasse in Northern Ireland looming on Friday.

The Kremlin said on Tuesday that it sees no reason to expect relations between Britain and Russia to improve now that Mr Sunak is at No 10.

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