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Rishi Sunak warns Tory MPs of ‘existential threat’ unless party wins back public trust

In his first words as party leader, next prime minister promises ‘policies not personalities’ – and rules out early election

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Monday 24 October 2022 16:43 BST
Rishi Sunak greeted with cheers from Conservative colleagues after winning race for PM

Rishi Sunak has warned Tory MPs they face “an existential threat” of a heavy election defeat unless they can win back the public’s trust – and have only “one shot” to do so.

In his first words as the party’s leader – ahead of becoming prime minister probably on Tuesday – Mr Sunak also urged a focus on “policies not personalities” and ruled out an early election.

Simon Hoare, a senior Conservative MP who heard the speech, also said he gained the strong impression the de-facto budget planned for next Monday will go ahead.

“He said we are facing an existential threat – but it is not an existential threat that is inevitable,” Mr Hoare told journalists.

“He said we have one shot to get it right, to restore faith and trust in British politics – and there will no second chances.”

Mr Sunak addressed a packed committee room of Conservative MPs – including Boris Johnson – 30 minutes after it was announced that he will succeed Liz Truss in No 10.

It was confirmed when Penny Mordaunt followed Boris Johnson in withdrawing from the contest, when she failed to gather the 100 nominations required to prolong the fight.

Minutes later, Graham Brady, the chair of the Tory backbench 1922 Committee, formally announced the result, saying: “I can confirm that we have one valid nomination, and Rishi Sunak is elected as leader of the Conservative party.”

Government sources have suggested Mr Sunak is likely to meet the King and take over as prime minister on Tuesday – although a later handover cannot be ruled out.

Rishi Sunak, aged 42, is the youngest British prime minister for more than a century (Press Association Images)

In the committee room, the incoming prime minister is also believed to have stressed the need for “sustainable growth” – after Ms Truss’s tax-slashing dash-for-growth crashed the economy.

He reiterated his commitment to achieving net zero carbon emissions by the legal deadline of 2050 and to only cutting taxes when the economy and public finances allow.

Mr Sunak is not believed to have lifted the lid on the huge spending cuts the chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, is warning must be made to bring back financial stability.

Mr Hoare also joked about the notorious gaffe, on Ms Truss’s Twitter feed last month, when she pledged to “hit the ground” – a pledge that appeared to come all too true.

“He is actually going to hit the ground running. We have no time to lose,” the chair of the Commons Northern Ireland Committee added.

Later, in a speech lasting less than 90 seconds at party headquarters – after which he took no questions – Mr Sunak highlighted the “profound economic challenge” the country faces.

“We now need stability and unity and I will make it my utmost priority to bring our party and our country together,” he said.

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