ishi Sunak is set to become Britain’s 57th Prime Minister and will seek to end the chaos and bloodletting in the Conservative Party with a “government of all the talents”.
The ex-chancellor was heading for No10 after Boris Johnson on Sunday night pulled out of the race to be the next party leader. He will become Britain’s first non-white premier and, at the age of 42, will be the youngest since Lord Liverpool in 1812.
Home Secretary Grant Shapps stated that Mr Sunak’s premiership would be based significantly around the 2019 election manifesto — bearing down on inflation, pushing for economic growth and then cutting taxes, while seeking to particularly support the most vulnerable people in Britain.
But one of his most immediate challenges will be ending the civil war which has raged within the Tory Party. “He wants to have a government of all of the talents,” Mr Shapps told BBC Radio 5 Live. “One of the problems with the way that Liz Truss went about this initially was to narrow down purely to her own supporters, or largely to her own supporters.”
As it became clearer that Mr Sunak was going to win the race to be Tory leader, and PM, the pound rose, the cost of government borrowing fell and money markets were pricing Bank of England interest rates of around five per cent next year, compared with more than six per cent a few weeks ago. The optimism appeared short-lived, though, as both the pound and the FTSE 100 later pared back some of their earlier gains.
Mr Sunak will be aiming to reassure the markets by demanding “integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level of the Government” as he seeks to plug a black hole in the public finances of up to £40 billion. With Britain heading into a deeper cost-of-living crisis as winter approaches, senior Tory MPs issued a call for party unity.
Justice Secretary Brandon Lewis tweeted: “We have an opportunity to reunite and rebuild — we must take it. We have a duty to deliver for the British people at a time of economic hardship for so many. That is what we have always done as a party, and what we must do again.” However, the bitter splits gnawing away at the party were still clearly visible. Former culture secretary Nadine Dorries claimed it would “now be impossible to avoid a GE”, while veteran MP Sir Christopher Chope said the Tory party is “ungovernable” and argued that a general election is “the only answer”.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer also stepped up his calls for an election. But other Tory MPs dismissed the idea, stressing it would bring more instability, and an election looks highly unlikely with the Conservatives trailing Labour by more than 20 points, according to numerous polls. On the day that he could emerge as Britain’s next Prime Minister, Mr Sunak left his west London home, smartly-dressed in a suit and navy tie, shortly after 8am.
By mid-morning he had seen a surge in support from “switchers” from Mr Johnson’s campaign, with more than half the 357 Tory MPs backing him.
They included Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, Levelling-up Secretary Simon Clarke, Cabinet Office minister Nadhim Zahawi, former home secretary Priti Patel, former culture secretary Sir John Whittingdale and another close ally of Mr Johnson, Sir James Duddridge.
Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt, though, was still not giving up as she sought to secure the support of 100 MPs to get onto the ballot paper by 2pm. But even if she did succeed, by trebling her publicly-declared support in just a few hours, Mr Sunak was expected to be far ahead in the MPs’ vote which will make clear to party members who is their preferred choice.
So, the members would have to override the view of the majority of MPs to make Ms Mordaunt leader, having just weeks ago put Liz Truss into No10 and her premiership lasting just 44 days, the shortest in British politics, and unleashing mayhem on the financial markets.
After Mr Johnson withdrew from the Tory contest, both Mr Sunak and Ms Mordaunt praised him as they were stepping up their efforts to woo his backers and unite the party.
Mr Sunak tweeted: “Although he has decided not to run for PM again, I truly hope he continues to contribute to public life at home and abroad.” Mr Mordaunt said Mr Johnson had put “country before party” by deciding to pull out of the race.
Mr Johnson had returned home from a Caribbean holiday as he plotted a return to No 10 less than two months after being ousted following a series of scandals, but later ruled out standing. Lagging behind Mr Sunak in declared backers, he said that “you can’t govern effectively unless you have a united party in Parliament”.
His decision to pull out came in an extraordinary 10 days in British politics which started with the sacking of Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng, saw Ms Truss quit, and Mr Kwarteng’s successor Jeremy Hunt tearing up his September 23 mini-budget.
Nadine Dorries suggested it was not “the end of Boris Johnson”. The ex-Cabinet minister said “hours of conversations” took place between Mr Johnson, Mr Sunak and Ms Mordaunt to agree on a unified solution, but the remaining candidates “declined to come together”, choosing to “go on their own path”. She told Times Radio that Johnson supporters were “very keen that we have unity in the party”.