Rishi Sunak: The super-rich former banker who will be the first person of color to lead Britain

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Ivana Kottasová
Luke McGee

 

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By Ivana Kottasová and Luke McGee, CNN

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See the moment Tory Party announced Sunak to be next British PM

01:38 – Source: CNNLondonCNN — 

Just seven short weeks ago, it looked as if it might be all over for Rishi Sunak.

The former chancellor of the exchequer – the UK’s title for its chief finance minister – made a high-stakes gamble. He launched an attack that helped to end Boris Johnson’s premiership, put himself forward as his replacement, but ultimately lost to Liz Truss. Admitting defeat, he retreated to the parliamentary back benches.

But in a sign of just how unpredictable British politics has become, Sunak has returned triumphant from the political wilderness to replace Truss, whose premiership imploded last week.

Sunak was the only leadership hopeful to secure the support of 100 Conservative members of parliament, the necessary threshold set by party officials for potential candidates. He will become the first person of color to be British prime minister – and at the age of 42, he is also the youngest person to take the office in more than 200 years.

He was the last person standing after his rivals – Johnson and the Leader of the House of Commons Penny Mordaunt – fell by the wayside.

Speaking after being declared the new Conservative leader, Sunak said he was “honored and humbled” to become the next prime minister.

“It is the greatest privilege of my life to be able to serve the party I love, and to be able to give back to the country i owe so much to,” Sunak said.

“The United Kingdom is a great country, but there is no doubt we face a profound economic challenge,” he added. “We need stability and unity, and I will make it my utmost priority to bring our party and our country together.”

Conservative Party leadership candidate Rishi Sunak leaves his campaign office, in London, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022. Former British Treasury chief Rishi Sunak is frontrunner in the Conservative Party's race to replace Liz Truss as prime minister.

Rishi Sunak will be Britain’s next prime minister after seeing off rivals in race to replace Truss

Sunak first publicly declared on Sunday morning that he would be standing in the contest. Other than that brief statement, he made no big pitch for the leadership this time round.

In the last contest, over the summer, he was widely seen as the more moderate of the two candidates. Compared to Truss, he took a less ideological line on matters like Brexit and the economy. (Unlike Truss, a remainer-turned hardline Brexiteer, Sunak voted for the UK to leave the European Union in the 2016 referendum.)

Like Truss, Sunak promised a tough approach to illegal immigration and vowed to expand the government’s controversial Rwanda immigration policy.

Sunak, whose parents came to the UK from East Africa in the 1960s, is of Indian descent. His father was a local doctor while his mother ran a pharmacy in southern England, something Sunak says gave him his desire to serve the public.

“British Indian is what I tick on the census, we have a category for it. I am thoroughly British, this is my home and my country, but my religious and cultural heritage is Indian, my wife is Indian. I am open about being a Hindu,” Sunak said in an interview with Business Standard in 2015.

He will be the first Hindu to become British prime minister, securing the position on Diwali, the festival of lights that marks one of the most important days of the Hindu calendar. Sunak himself made history in 2020 when he lit Diwali candles outside 11 Downing Street, the official residence of the UK chancellor.

He has faced challenges over his elite background, having studied at the exclusive Winchester College, Oxford and Stanford universities. He is known for his expensive taste in fashion and has worked for banks and hedge funds, including Goldman Sachs.

Graham Brady — chairman of the 1922 Committee — announces October 24 that Sunak will become the new leader of the Conservative Party, making him the UK's next prime minister.
Sunak waves in London after winning the Conservative Party leadership contest on October 24.
Rishi Sunak speaks in London while running for prime minister in August 2022. He lost to Liz Truss but is now set to replace her.

Rishi Sunak speaks in London while running for prime minister in August 2022. He lost to Liz Truss but is now set to replace her.Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Sunak and Boris Johnson watch as a sheep is sheared during a visit to a farm in North Yorkshire, England, in July 2019. At the time Johnson was running to lead Britain's Conservative Party and Sunak was a member of Parliament.
Johnson, as Prime Minister, holds his first Cabinet meeting in London in July 2019. Johnson appointed Sunak, seen on the right, as chief secretary to the Treasury.
Sunak speaks in front of the words "Get Brexit Done" at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, England, in September 2019. He voted for the UK to leave the European Union in the 2016 referendum.
Sunak speaks during a general election debate in Cardiff, Wales, in November 2019.
Sunak poses for a picture at the Treasury Office in London in March 2020. Johnson promoted Sunak to chancellor in 2020.
Sunak is seen outside 11 Downing Street in London before heading to the House of Commons to deliver his budget in March 2020.
From left, Sunak, Johnson and Dr. Jenny Harries speak about the coronavirus pandemic at a media briefing in London in March 2020. Sunak won popularity during the early weeks of the pandemic when he unveiled an extensive support plan for those unable to work during lockdown.
Johnson and Sunak visit a London pizza restaurant as it prepared to reopen in July 2020 when lockdown rules were eased.
Douglas Ross, leader of the Scottish Conservative Party, meets with Sunak at Wemyss Bay on the west coast of Scotland in August 2020.
Sunak meets with local businesses during a visit to the Isle of Bute in Scotland in August 2020.
Sunak learns the art of handling clay to make plates during a visit to a pottery business in Stoke-on-Trent, England, in September 2020. Employees were returning to work after being furloughed.
Sunak is seen on Downing Street ahead of a Cabinet meeting in September 2020.
In October 2020, customers at the Tib Street Tavern in Manchester watch Sunak announce that the government will pay two-thirds of staff wages in pubs, restaurants and other businesses if they are forced to close under new coronavirus restrictions.
Sunak delivers a speech during the annual Conservative Party Conference in Manchester in October 2021.
Sunak launches his bid to become leader of the Conservative Party in July 2022.
Sunak and Murty are seen with their daughters, Krishna and Anoushka, while campaigning in Grantham, England, in July 2022.
In August 2022, Sunak visits his family's old business, Bassett Pharmacy, in Southampton, England. His parents came to the UK from East Africa in the 1960s. His father was a local doctor while his mother ran a pharmacy in southern England, something Sunak says gave him his desire to serve the public.
Sunak and Liz Truss stand together on stage during the final Conservative Party Hustings event in London in August 2022. At the time, they were the final two contenders to become the country's next Prime Minister. Truss defeated Sunak with 81,326 votes to 60,399 among party members.
Sunak leaves his campaign office in London on Monday, October 24. He became the frontrunner to replace Truss as prime minister after she announced her resignation.
Graham Brady — chairman of the 1922 Committee — announces October 24 that Sunak will become the new leader of the Conservative Party, making him the UK's next prime minister.
Sunak waves in London after winning the Conservative Party leadership contest on October 24.
Rishi Sunak speaks in London while running for prime minister in August 2022. He lost to Liz Truss but is now set to replace her.
Sunak and Boris Johnson watch as a sheep is sheared during a visit to a farm in North Yorkshire, England, in July 2019. At the time Johnson was running to lead Britain's Conservative Party and Sunak was a member of Parliament.

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Sunak has also been scrutinized over the tax arrangements of his wife Akshata Murty, the daughter of an Indian billionaire.

Earlier this year, Sunak and Murty appeared on the Sunday Times Rich List of the UK’s 250 wealthiest people – the newspaper estimated their joint net worth at £730 million ($826 million).

Sunak’s election on Monday marks the pinnacle of what has been a speedy rise to power. He was first elected as an MP in 2015 and spent two years on the back benches before becoming a junior minister in Theresa May’s government. Johnson gave Sunak his first major government role, appointing him as chief secretary to the Treasury in 2019 and promoting him to chancellor in 2020.

Sunak has experience of economic crisis-fighting, having guided the UK through the Covid-19 pandemic, and positioned himself as the “sound finance” candidate.

During the pandemic, Sunak put in place measures worth £400 billion ($452 billion) aimed at boosting the economy, including a generous furlough scheme, business loans and discounts on eating in restaurants. But that stimulus came at a huge cost and left the government scrambling to find savings.

Sunak was an early critic of Truss’ economic plan, which was panned by investors, the International Monetary Fund and credit ratings agencies. While he also advocated for lower taxes, he said tax could only be cut once inflation is brought under control, which could take several years.

His warning over the summer that Truss’ unfunded tax cuts could spark panic in the financial markets turned out to be true. The British pound crashed to a record low against the US dollar when Truss and her Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng unveiled their plan. Prices of UK government bonds rose at the fastest pace ever, sending borrowing costs skyrocketing.

He also secured the most votes from MPs in the last leadership election – comfortably clearing the new threshold with 137 endorsements. Although Truss eventually won the decisive vote among grassroots members, Sunak was not far behind, gaining 43% of the vote.

Second chance

Johnson has made no secret of the fact that he believes Sunak betrayed him by resigning from his government, triggering his resignation on July 7 after a string of scandals made his position untenable.

Johnson’s downfall followed months of revelations of parties held in 10 Downing Street while the rest of the country was under Covid lockdown restrictions. Johnson himself was fined by the police, making him the first prime minister in history found to have broken the law in office.

For a long time, Sunak stood by Johnson – especially since he too was fined in the so-called Partygate scandal.

Rishi Sunak, former UK chancellor of the exchequer, arrives at his office in Millbank, in London, UK, on Monday, Oct. 24, 2022. Sunak took a huge step toward becoming the UKs next prime minister as former premier Boris Johnson pulled out of the contest after a weekend of vacillation and as he won the endorsement of Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt.

Rishi Sunak will face huge economic challenges as well as messy politics

But he turned against him after Johnson was slow to act when his deputy chief whip responsible for party discipline, Chris Pincher, was accused of sexually assaulting two men at a party in early July. (Pincher later said he had “drunk far too much,” although has not directly addressed the allegations.)

Sunak’s shock resignation from Johnson’s cabinet over the Pincher scandal set into motion a series of high-profile resignations that led to Johnson’s demise – and ultimately, to his own rise to the Downing Street.

Sunak faces an enormous task. The UK is in the midst of a deep cost-of-living crisis and soaring inequality. Financial markets are still spooked after Truss’ disastrous economic policy missteps.

The Conservative party, already unpopular after 12 years in power, has plunged itself into a state of utter chaos over the past four months and is now well behind the opposition Labour party in opinion polls. The only comfort for Sunak is that he doesn’t have to call an election until January 2025.

CNN’s Sugam Pokharel in London contributed reporting.

source https://edition.cnn.com/2022/10/24/uk/profile-rishi-sunak-uk-politics-intl-gbr/index.html

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