LONDON — Rishi Sunak will be appointed UK prime minister this week after his last remaining rival Penny Mordaunt dropped out of the Tory leadership contest.
Sunak, the former chancellor, won the public support of almost 200 of his Conservative MP colleagues to succeed Liz Truss, who resigned last Thursday after a chaotic six weeks in office.
It caps a remarkable political comeback for Sunak, who only last month was defeated in a head-to-head leadership contest with Truss and was subsequently excluded from her top team.
“I am humbled and honored,” he said. “It is the greatest privilege of my life to serve.”
Mordaunt, who trailed Sunak in terms of support from her parliamentary colleagues, announced her withdrawal from the contest just as MPs’ nominations closed at 2 pm on Monday. Her decision avoids the need for a vote among the wider Conservative Party membership, who would have been balloted this week for a final decision.
“This decision is an historic one and shows, once again, the diversity and talent of our party,” Mordaunt said, hailing the man who will now become the UK’s first British-Asian prime minister. “Rishi has my full support.”
Sunak, 42, is expected to take office on Tuesday once a meeting with King Charles III has been agreed. Truss remains prime minister until the formal handover of power.
Confirming the announcement, Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 committee of Tory backbenchers which oversees leadership elections, said he had received just a single nomination for the leadership.
“Rishi Sunak is therefore elected as leader of the Conservative Party,” he told Tory MPs, who banged desks and cheered in the oak-paneled House of Commons committee room where they had gathered to hear the result.
Sunak, who has barely spoken in public since his defeat to Truss was confirmed on September 5, made a brief address to the nation on Monday afternoon.
“I pledge that I will serve you with integrity and humility,” he said, “and I will work day in, day out to deliver for the British people.”
Although Sunak faces intense pressure from the opposition Labor Party to call a general election following weeks of political turmoil, under the UK’s parliamentary system he will be under no obligation to do so until January 2025, as he now commands the confidence of the largest party in the House of Commons.
Sunak’s coronation also follows a decision by Boris Johnson to pull out of the contest. The former prime minister, who was ousted in July, had been mulling a second tilt at the job after a weekend spent canvassing Tory MPs.
But Johnson said on Sunday evening that it was “not the right time” for him to attempt a comeback and suggested he would not be able to govern effectively without “a unity party in parliament”.
Critic of ‘fairytale’ economics
Sunak was chancellor for over two years following his appointment in February 2020, and steered the UK economy through the coronavirus pandemic before resigning in the summer in an act that helped bring down Johnson’s premiership.
He stood in the Tory leadership race that followed but was defeated in a final head-to-head contest with Truss, who secured 57.4 percent of votes from the grassroots party.
Throughout the contest Sunak was a vocal critic of Truss’ controversial economic program, using a live TV debate to tell her: “Borrowing your way out of inflation isn’t a plan, it’s a fairytale.” He warned repeatedly — and presciently — that Truss’ debt-funded tax cuts would push up interest rates and send mortgage payments.
He will now be tasked with turning Conservative Party fortunes after the precipitous drop in the polls that followed Truss’ disastrous economic program — much of which has already been abandoned.
Labour’s Deputy Leader Angela Rayner said Sunak had been appointed to the UK’s top job “without him saying a single word about how he would run the country, and without anyone having the chance to vote.”
She repeated the opposition’s call for a general election, adding: “Rishi Sunak has no mandate and no idea what working people need.”