New PM Rishi Sunak pledges to lead UK out of economic crisis

The new leader promises to unite the country as well as place economic stability and confidence at the heart of his agenda.

Britain's new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak
Sunak waves as he enters 10 Downing Street in London [Henry Nicholls/Reuters]

Rishi Sunak has become the United Kingdom’s third prime minister in two months and pledged to lead the country out of an economic crisis and rebuild trust in politics.

Sunak on Tuesday quickly reappointed Jeremy Hunt as chancellor in a move designed to calm markets that had baulked at his predecessor’s debt-fuelled economic plans.

Sunak addressed the nation outside 10 Downing Street after his formal appointment by King Charles III. He praised the ambition of his predecessor Liz Truss to reignite economic growth but acknowledged mistakes had been made.

“I have been elected as leader of my party and your prime minister in part to fix them,” he said. “And that work begins immediately. I will place economic stability and confidence at the heart of this government’s agenda.”

“I understand, too, that I have work to do to restore trust, after all that has happened. All I can say is that I am not daunted. I know the high office I have accepted and I hope to live up to its demands.”

The new prime minister also restored Dominic Raab to the post of deputy prime minister, a role he lost in Truss’s 45 days in office, and reappointed James Cleverly as foreign minister and Ben Wallace as defence minister.

Penny Mordaunt, who ended her bid to win a leadership contest against Sunak on Monday, also retained her position as leader of the House of Commons, a role that organises the government’s business in the lower house of Parliament.

Johnson’s withdrawal

Sunak became the ruling Conservative Party’s new leader on Monday after triumphing over Mordaunt, who failed to secure enough nominations from Conservative MPs.

It had become a two-way fight after Boris Johnson, who resigned as prime minister in July, dramatically aborted a comeback attempt on Sunday evening, having failed to persuade Sunak to share power.

Breaking his silence, Johnson offered his “full and wholehearted support” to Sunak, despite having blamed his former minister for toppling him in July.

Al Jazeera’s Andrew Simmons, reporting from Downing Street, said Sunak wants unity, with people having their say.

As Sunak takes the top job, Simmons also said: “There’s no love lost between him and Boris Johnson, and there’s no doubt about that.”

He added: “[Boris] came here with the expectation that he would be riding back into Downing Street. He really thought he had a popular position in London which he didn’t have.”

But, his influence over party members and the public cannot be disregarded, Simmons said.

“There you have an area that could cause a future problem because Johnson is still well-regarded by quite a few people in the party.”

Sunak, a 42-year-old Hindu, is the country’s first non-white prime minister and its youngest leader in more than 200 years.

US President Joe Biden called the choice “groundbreaking” and promised to reach out to Sunak shortly.

Truss left office as the shortest-serving PM in history, after a failed tax-slashing budget sparked economic and political turmoil.

The 47-year-old announced her resignation last Thursday, admitting she could not deliver her mandate from Conservative members, who had chosen her over Sunak to replace Johnson.

Newly-elected Sunak now faces decades-high inflation, surging borrowing costs and imminent recession.

He also has to deal with the uphill task of uniting a party riven with divisions and infighting.

Calls for early polls

Sunak, a wealthy descendant of immigrants from India and East Africa, is facing calls for a general election after becoming the latest leader who lacks a direct mandate from the electorate.

Pollster Ipsos said on Monday that 62 percent of voters want a vote by the end of the year.

“The Tories have crowned Rishi Sunak without him saying a word about what he would do as PM. He has no mandate, no answers and no ideas,” the main opposition Labour Party’s deputy leader Angela Rayner tweeted, using an alternative term to address Conservatives.

Ed Davey, leader of the opposition Liberal Democrats, said young people would be “inspired” by the appointment of the first British-Asian leader, but also insisted it was time for a general election.

“Given the Conservatives have trashed the economy … I guess one’s not surprised that they’re scared of the British public,” he told Times Radio.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies