Rishi Sunak makes his first speech to the nation as prime minister (Picture: Supplied)
Rishi Sunak has promised to unite his party and the country after winning the Conservative leadership battle – and making history as the UK’s first British Asian prime minister.
After rival Penny Mordaunt dropped out of the race to succeed Liz Truss, the 42-year-old – the youngest PM for 210 years but the third in just seven tumultuous weeks – received a rapturous reception at the party’s HQ.
In a TV address, he told the country he would ‘work day in, day out to deliver for the British people’ and pledged to ‘serve you with integrity and humility’. He said he was honoured and humbled, adding: ‘It is the greatest privilege of my life, to be able to serve the party I love and give back to the country I owe so much to.
‘The United Kingdom is a great country but there is no doubt we face a profound economic challenge. We now need stability and unity, and I will make it my utmost priority to bring our party and our country together. That is the only way we will overcome the challenges we face and build a better, more prosperous future for our children and grandchildren.’
But Mr Sunak had a starker message for his MPs in a private meeting at Westminster after the result was revealed.
He warned them to ‘unite or die’ after the second bruising leadership battle since scandal-scarred Boris Johnson quit in the summer – and as families faced a cost of living crisis with inflation, energy bills and mortgage costs rising.
Mr Johnson had failed to pull off a shock return to No.10, announcing on Sunday night he would not enter a planned vote of MPs yesterday – despite claiming to have more than the 100 nominations required.
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Just before candidates had to declare at 2pm, Ms Mordaunt – said to have around 90 backers – also announced she would not run, saying colleagues preferred Mr Sunak and ‘feel we need certainty’.
That left Mr Sunak – publicly backed by 200 MPs – as the only contender, so a poll of party members was not needed.
Seven weeks ago their votes in a final run-off made Ms Truss party leader even though most MPs had backed Mr Sunak, whose resignation as chancellor in July triggered the exodus of ministers that eventually brought down Mr Johnson.
Boris Johnson dropped out of the leadership race on Sunday night (Picture: Getty Images)
The Brexit-voting MP for Richmond, Yorkshire, was made chancellor by Mr Johnson in February 2020 just before the Covid pandemic, and won praise for his £70billion furlough scheme.
But he faced criticism over £5billion lost to fraud in bounce-back loans and was accused of fuelling infections with his Eat Out To Help Out scheme for restaurants.
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In April, he was fined for breaking lockdown rules at a No.10 birthday party for Mr Johnson in June 2020 – although he insisted he had merely arrived early for a meeting. And he faced controversy over the tax status of wife Akshata Murty – daughter of an Indian billionaire tycoon.
In his 86-second address yesterday, Mr Sunak praised predecessor Ms Truss’s dedicated public service, saying she ‘led with dignity and grace through a time of great change and under exceptionally difficult circumstances, at home and abroad’.
Pound rises as markets hope for ‘steady hand’
Markets had largely expected a Rishi Sunak victory and rallied on the announcement yesterday. After a rollercoaster morning, the FTSE-100 index rose by 1.1 per cent to hit 7,045 points. Sterling initially dropped in value against the dollar but by 3pm, £1 could buy a little over $1.13, up 0.25 per cent on the day.
Meanwhile, business leaders urged Mr Sunak to end ‘political and economic uncertainty’. The British Chambers of Commerce said he ‘must be a steady hand on the tiller to see the UK through challenging conditions ahead’
Ms Truss will meet King Charles at Buckingham Palace to resign this morning, with Mr Sunak meeting him at 11.30am to be invited to form a government.
He quickly ruled out an early election. But Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said: ‘The Tories have crowned Rishi Sunak without him saying a single word about how he would run the country and without anyone having the chance to vote. We need a general election so the public get a say on the future of Britain.’
Last night, a YouGov poll found 56 per cent of voters want an early election. Some 38 per cent were pleased Mr Sunak will be PM, with 41 per cent disappointed.
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The party has gone through a second bruising leadership battle.