Rishi Sunak is shown Monday next to his campaign headquarters in London. After being denied in the September contest for the Conservative leadership against Liz Truss, he has emerged victorious after her disastrous tenure as prime minister. (Hannah McKay/Reuters)
LONDON (AP) – Rishi Sunak has won the race to be leader of Britain’s Conservative Party and will become the country’s next prime minister — the third this year.
Sunak emerged over former leader Boris Johnson and Penny Mourdaunt in the truncated process to replace Liz Truss as leader. He was the only candidate with confirmed support from more than 100 lawmakers, the number needed to run in the election, with his backers claiming he has been endorsed by more than half of the 357 Conservative lawmakers in Parliament.
“I can confirm that we have received one valid nomination, and Rishi Sunak is therefore elected as leader of the Conservative Party,” said party official Graham Brady.
Mourdant just minutes earlier released a concession statement.
“Rishi has my full support,” she said.
Truss announced her resignation last week. Truss’s short tenure of just over six weeks was marked by shock over the government’s mini-budget, which roiled British markets, and internal party dissension leading to cabinet departures and backbenchers expressing a lack of confidence in Truss.
Sunak, the former Treasury chief under Johnson, will become Britain’s first leader of colour and the first Hindu to take the top job. At 42, he’ll also be the youngest British prime minister in more than 200 years.
He will be asked by King Charles III to form a government. He will become the prime minister in a handover of power from Truss later Monday or on Tuesday.
Johnson comeback not in the cards
Johnson dramatically quit the race on Sunday night, ending a short-lived, high-profile attempt to return to the prime minister’s job he was ousted from little more than three months ago amid ethics scandals.
Johnson spent the weekend trying to gain support from fellow Conservative lawmakers after flying back from a Caribbean vacation. Late Sunday he said he had amassed the backing of 102 colleagues. But he was far behind Sunak in support, and said he had concluded that “you can’t govern effectively unless you have a united party in Parliament.”
Sunak had helped bring down the Johnson government in the summer with his resignation. In a series of tweets Sunday, he praised Johnson for delivering Brexit, the COVID-19 vaccine rollout and his support of Ukraine as it fights Russia’s invasion.
Sunak lost out to Truss in the last Conservative election, but his party and the country now appear eager for a safe pair of hands to tackle soaring energy and food prices, and a looming recession. The politician steered the economy through the coronavirus pandemic, winning praise for his financial support for laid-off workers and shuttered businesses.
Truss promised her “full support” Monday to Sunak.
He has promised “integrity, professionalism and accountability” if he forms a government — a nod to the growing to desire for a leader who can tackle the country’s problems.
The Conservative Party turmoil is fuelling demands from the opposition parties for a national election. Under Britain’s parliamentary system, there does not need to be one until the end of 2024, though the government has the power to call one sooner.
Sunak studied politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford University and then got an MBA at Stanford University.
He worked for the investment bank Goldman Sachs as a hedge fund manager and lived in the U.S., where he met his wife, Akshata Murty. They have two daughters.
Returning to Britain, Sunak was elected to Parliament for the safe Tory seat of Richmond in Yorkshire in 2015. In Britain’s 2016 Brexit referendum, he supported leaving the European Union.
When “Leave” voters prevailed in the referendum, Sunak’s career took off. He served in several junior ministerial posts before being appointed chancellor of the exchequer — head of the Treasury — by Johnson in February 2020, just before the pandemic hit.
Sunak has had his wobbles over the years. Critics said a campaign to get people to eat in restaurants after lockdown restrictions were eased in the summer of 2020 contributed to another wave of COVID-19.
Others have said Sunak’s family’s vast wealth and Silicon Valley past put him out of touch with the struggles of ordinary people.