- Sunak may be declared the winner after 2pm
- Benny Mordant is racing to get support to challenge him
- Borrowing costs will ease as Boris Johnson withdraws from the race
LONDON, Oct 24 (Reuters) – Rishi Sunak looks set to become Britain’s next prime minister after his rival Boris Johnson dropped out in one of the most tumultuous periods in British political history.
Sunak, a 42-year-old former finance minister who will become Britain’s third prime minister in less than two months on Monday, is tasked with restoring stability to a country reeling from years of political and economic turmoil.
The multi-millionaire former hedge fund boss will introduce deep spending cuts to rebuild Britain’s fiscal reputation, even as the country slips into recession, dragged down by rising energy and food prices.
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“The United Kingdom is a great country, but we face a deep economic crisis,” Sunak said in a brief statement announcing his candidacy to lead the Conservative Party, thereby becoming prime minister.
Britain has been locked in a sense of perpetual crisis since voting to leave the European Union in 2016, unleashing a battle in Westminster over the country’s future that remains unresolved today.
The latest drama has drawn consternation in foreign capitals and derision from the world press.
Johnson, the face of the Brexit vote who led his party to a landslide victory in 2019, was forced out of office less than three years after a series of scandals. His successor, Liz Truss, lasted 44 days before stepping down over an economic policy that trashed the country’s economic credibility.
Sunak, who has not said how he plans to govern the country despite taking office just hours away, will inherit a party plagued by ideology, and some lawmakers blame him for Johnson’s demise.
The former prime minister was withdrawn late on Sunday, angering some ministers and lawmakers for looking foolish after backing him back to Downing Street.
Confusion and instability
“Not since the modern era of politics began in 1832 have we seen so much chaos and instability,” historian and political biographer Anthony Selden told Sky News.
If Benny Mordant fails to secure the support of 100 lawmakers by 2pm (1300 GMT) on Monday, Sunak could become prime minister – and the country’s first non-white prime minister.
Mordant, who is the leader of Parliament’s House of Commons, has the support of around 25 politicians so far. His campaign spokesman said Monday that he was “getting the numbers.” More than 150 people have supported Sunak.
If he fails to reach the threshold, Sunak will become Prime Minister. If he makes it to the polls, members of the party — some of whom are thought to hold Chung responsible for defeating Johnson — will pick a winner on Friday.
Britain’s borrowing costs eased on Monday after Johnson withdrew from the race after Trudeau introduced a “mini-budget” that included £45bn of unfunded tax cuts.
Although Sunak has received support from many sections of the party, analysts and economists say they still doubt whether he can unite the party.
Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt – his fourth in four months – is due to present a budget on October 31 to plug a black hole in the public purse, which is expected to have ballooned to £40 billion.
Private equity tycoon Guy Hands has said Britain’s dominant political party is no longer fit to run the country and must accept its vision of Brexit is not working. Millions of people continue to be poor, he said.
“It needs to move on from its own civil wars and focus on what it really needs to do with the economy, admitting some of the mistakes they’ve made in the last six years, which have obviously taken this country down a path. The sick man of Europe,” he told BBC radio.
Investors have at least been reassured that Johnson won’t be running for the crown. The former prime minister was jetting home from a vacation in the Caribbean.
He said on Sunday night that although he had enough support, he realized he could not govern effectively “unless you are a united party in Parliament”.
“Boris has bottled it,” the Metro newspaper said on its front page, as many lawmakers questioned whether he actually had the necessary 100 lawmakers’ support. By Sunday, more than 50 had publicly said they would vote for Johnson.
Many of Johnson’s supporters accused Sunak of betrayal after he resigned as finance minister in the summer, sparking the revolt that ousted Johnson.
Sunak first came to national attention when, aged 39, he became finance minister under Johnson as the Covid-19 pandemic hit Britain, creating the successful furlough scheme.
If elected, the former Goldman Sachs analyst will be the first Indian-origin Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
His family moved to Britain in the 1960s, when many from Britain’s former colonies moved to the country to help rebuild it after World War II.
After graduating from Oxford University, he later went to Stanford University, where he met his wife Akshata Murthy, whose father was Indian billionaire NR Narayana Murthy, founder of outsourcing company Infosys Ltd.
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Written by Kate Holden, additional reporting by Movieja M, William James, Paul Sandle, James Davey; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Hugh Lawson
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