LONDON — Rishi Sunak became Britain’s third prime minister of the year on Tuesday, tasked with tackling an economic crisis that has left the country’s finances in a precarious state and millions struggling to pay their food and energy bills.
Sunak, who is the UK’s first colored leader, met King Charles III at Buckingham Palace, where the monarch formally asked the new leader of the ruling Conservative Party to form a government, as is tradition.
Sunak clinched the leadership position on Monday, seen by his party as a pair of sure hands that he hopes will stabilize an economy sliding into recession and stem his own slump in popularity, following Liz’s brief and disastrous tenure. Truss.
His package of unfunded tax cuts spooked financial markets with the prospect of ballooning debt, drove the pound to record highs and forced the Bank of England to intervene, weakening the fragile economy of Great Britain and destroying his authority within his party.
Sunak – at 42, Britain’s youngest leader in more than 200 years – acknowledged the scale of his challenge as well as the skepticism of a British public alarmed by the state of the economy and weary of a soap opera. Conservative Party that chewed up two prime ministers in as many months.
“I fully appreciate how difficult things are,” Sunak said outside the prime minister’s residence at 10 Downing Street. “And I also understand that I have work to do to restore confidence after everything that’s happened. All I can say is that I’m not discouraged.”
When he was treasury chief, Sunak became popular with the public by doling out billions of dollars to support shuttered businesses and laid-off workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But now he will have to oversee tax hikes and public spending cuts as he tries to get inflation and public debt under control.
Acknowledging the “difficult decisions ahead”, Sunak tried to draw a line under the chaos that engulfed Truss and his predecessor, Boris Johnson. He said his government “will demonstrate integrity, professionalism and accountability at all levels”.
Opponents already describe Sunak as out of touch with the concerns of ordinary people due to his privileged background at private school, his previous career as a hedge fund manager and his vast wealth.
Sunak “takes office as a prime minister not particularly popular, but with a reputation for some semblance of economic competence,” said Alan Wager, associate researcher at the UK in a Changing Europe think tank. “The problem will be that he is seen as someone who is not on the people’s side. He is seen as someone who is largely out of touch.”
Much of Sunak’s fortune comes from his wife Akshata Murty, whose father is the billionaire founder of Indian IT company Infosys. The couple are worth 730 million pounds ($826 million), according to the Sunday Times Rich List.
In April 2022 it emerged that Murty had failed to pay UK tax on his overseas earnings. The practice was legal – and Murty quickly agreed to give it up – but it seemed wrong at a time when millions of Britons were struggling to make ends meet.
Sunak’s top priorities will be appointing cabinet ministers and preparing a budget statement that outlines how the government plans to find billions of pounds (dollars) to fill a fiscal hole created by soaring inflation and a sluggish economy. – and exacerbated by Truss’ destabilizing time at the office.
The statement, which is expected to include tax increases and spending cuts, is currently due in Parliament on Monday by Treasury Chief Jeremy Hunt – if Sunak keeps him in office.
Truss left on Tuesday after making a defiant public statement outside 10 Downing Street, seven weeks to the day after her appointment as Prime Minister. She announced her resignation on Thursday, acknowledging that she could not follow through on her economic plans.
In his parting words, Truss offered a defense of his vision for tax cuts and his brief tenure – despite the market chaos unleashed by his Sept. 23 budget package.
“I am more convinced than ever that we must be bold and confront the problems we face,” she said, before wishing success to Sunak as “our country continues to fight through a storm” .
Sunak’s victory is a remarkable reversal of fortune just weeks after losing to Truss in a Conservative election to replace Johnson. Party members chose his encouragement to cut taxes over his warnings that inflation must be brought under control.
Sunak was chosen as the Conservative leader after becoming the only candidate to clear the hurdle of 100 nominations from fellow lawmakers to run for the party. Sunak beat rival Penny Mordaunt, who could get a job in her government, and ousted Johnson, who returned from a vacation in the Caribbean to rally support for a comeback bid, but didn’t get enough support to stand. to present.
As well as stabilizing Britain’s economy, Sunak must try to unite a ruling party that has fallen into acrimony as its polls plunge.
Conservative lawmaker Victoria Atkins, an ally of Sunak, said the party would “settle” under Sunak.
“We all understand that now we really need to support Rishi – and, in all honesty, that’s exactly what the party has done,” she told LBC radio station.
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