Updated Oct 24, 2022 - World

Rishi Sunak to be U.K.'s next prime minister as rivals drop out

Rishi Sunak (L) with Boris Johnson in 2020. Photo: oby Melville/WPA Pool/Getty

Former finance minister Rishi Sunak has won the contest to replace Liz Truss as Conservative Party leader. He will become the U.K.'s first prime minister of color and of South Asian descent later this week.

Why it matters: The U.K. has faced extreme political and economic turmoil over the past several months, with Boris Johnson resigning due to a series of scandals and Truss then stepping down after just six weeks because her tax cuts plan caused a run on the British pound.

The latest: "The United Kingdom is a great country, but there is no doubt we face a profound economic challenge. We now need stability and unity and I will make it my utmost priority to bring our party and our country together," Sunak said in a brief address after assuming the party leadership.

  • Sunak is expected to meet later this week, likely Tuesday, with King Charles III, who will for the first time ask an incoming prime minister to form a government — a task his late mother Queen Elizabeth II fulfilled 14 times.
  • Unlike Johnson and Truss, who packed their Cabinets with loyalists from the right flank of the party, Sunak is expected to pick high-profile MPs from across the party.

How it happened: In hopes of restoring stability, party leaders resolved that the race to replace Truss would be over within a week. Candidates needed the support of at least 100 of the 357 Conservative Members of Parliament by Monday to progress, and party members were to choose between the final two candidates in an online vote.

  • Johnson on Sunday abandoned a surprise bid to return to Downing Street after falling well behind Sunak among the MPs. While he claimed to have reached the requisite 100, far fewer were backing him publicly.
  • That left Sunak and House of Commons leader Penny Mordaunt. Mordaunt was still short of 100 as Monday's deadline approached and dropped out of the race as well, meaning the members will not get a vote.

Flashback: Sunak also led among MPs during the previous leadership race over the summer, but party members opted for Truss.

  • Sunak warned presciently at the time that Truss' tax cuts would force a spike in interest rates.

The big picture: Sunak is perhaps best known for implementing the U.K.'s economic support package during the pandemic. He helped push Johnson out of office by resigning from his Cabinet in July.

  • At 42, Sunak will be the youngest prime minister to be appointed since 1812. Tony Blair and David Cameron were both 43 when they took office.
  • The pound rose as it became clear that Sunak, generally seen by the markets as a safe pair of hands, would win the race.
  • Sunak entered Parliament in 2015 and backed Brexit during the 2016 referendum. During the previous leadership race, he faced scrutiny for his family's wealth and his wife's non-domiciled tax status.

What to watch: After a fairly shambolic period under Johnson and Truss, the Conservatives are trailing Labour by upwards of 30 points in the polls.

  • No general election is due for two years, but Labour is demanding one be called sooner.

Go deeper: U.K. prime ministers have been falling fast since Brexit

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