Rishi Sunak MP has become the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, completing the most remarkable political comeback in recent times, following the disastrous premiership of Liz Truss MP, who set the record as the shortest ever serving Prime Minister.
Sunak has been selected by the Conservative Party as he is seen as someone who can unite the party and who is not as controversial as his two predecessors. This is in spite of the fact that he received a fixed penalty notice over ‘partygate’ when he served as Chancellor of the Exchequer.
He is the youngest Prime Minister of the United Kingdom since Robert Jenkinson in 1812, and the first non-white Prime Minister.
The leadership election from which Sunak emerged victorious was a vastly different contest to the one he lost earlier in 2022. Indeed, Sunak was not elected on any specific platform other than uniting the Conservative Party and fixing the consequences of the disastrous ‘mini budget’ which took place under his predecessor.
He also had to contend with a viability exploration of his former boss, Boris Johnson MP, whom it appears was unable to garner the necessary support from his parliamentary colleagues and make a sensational return to the office he acrimoniously left only two months ago.
A return to austerity and diplomatic ambiguity
Sunak’s coronation as leader by his peers is largely, although not exclusively, due to the economic catastrophe which was unleashed under his predecessor.
Although he garnered a reputation among some of his Conservative colleagues as a big spender, with Jacob Rees-Mogg MP even referring to him as a “socialist”, economic discipline will be at the heart of Sunak’s Government.
Michael Gove MP has proclaimed that “the grown-ups are back in charge”, thus suggesting that the Conservative Party will be making a move away from the economic populism of Johnson and his supporters, and back towards the austerity policies implemented by David Cameron and George Osborne.
One of the first actions undertaken by Sunak and the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt MP was to delay the autumn statement, which is expected to result in tax increases across the board with an emphasis on reducing debt as a share of GDP, as well as filling a £40 billion black hole in government spending.
The United Kingdom has not had a budget surplus since 2001, although the austerity policies under David Cameron and George Osborne were designed to ensure such a scenario.
Sunak’s foreign policy vision is ambiguous. He was a new MP during the Brexit referendum in 2016, although he did support ‘leave’, which reportedly led former Prime Minister David Cameron to say that ‘remain’ had “just lost the future of the Conservative Party”.
He is expected to continue the Government’s support for Ukraine, although he has confirmed that the foreign aid budget will not rise back to 0.7 per cent of GDP as had been previously committed, and it is further expected that defence spending will remain at the minimum NATO standard of 2 per cent, rather than the 3 per cent that had been supported by his predecessor.
His reappointment of Chris Heaton-Harris MP as Northern Ireland Secretary of State was seen as an olive branch to the Johnson supporters of the Conservative Party, although it does appear as though Northern Ireland is not high on the list of priorities for Sunak, with the United Kingdom potentially standing to lose a lot should they renege on the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Furthermore, there are suggestions that Heaton-Harris’s decision not to call a promised Assembly election on 29 October was motivated by direct orders from the Prime Minister, who has outlined his ambiguous stance of supporting negotiation with the European Union.
The reappointment of Suella Braverman MP as Home Secretary can be taken as a signal that Sunak’s compromise with the right of the party is that he and Hunt will control the economic agenda, whilst the right get to set the agenda with regard to social issues such as immigration.
A moment in history
Sunak is the first Prime Minister of south Asian descent in the history of the United Kingdom. As the son of Indian immigrants, the media in India responded by saying: “An Indian son rises over the [British] Empire, history has come full circle in Britain.”
He is furthermore the first Prime Minister to adhere to the Hindu faith, the first born in the 1980s, and is also believed to be the richest person to have ever become Prime Minister.
With an estimated net worth of £730 million, which is believed to be almost 30 per cent more than that of King Charles, Sunak is the first Prime Minister to have a higher net worth than a British monarch.