LONDON: Britain’s incoming prime minister Rishi Sunak vowed on Monday (Oct 24) to bring “stability and unity” at a time of economic crisis, after he was named the Conservative party’s new leader.
“The United Kingdom is a great country but there is no doubt we face a profound economic challenge,” he told reporters, appearing to rule out an early general election.
The 42-year-old will be the UK’s first prime minister of colour after the premiership of Liz Truss imploded after just 44 days.
Penny Mordaunt, the last rival left in the party’s leadership race after Boris Johnson dramatically pulled out, failed to secure the necessary 100 nominations from her fellow Members of Parliament.
“Rishi Sunak is therefore elected as leader of the Conservative party,” senior backbencher Graham Brady said, as Mordaunt and Truss pledged their full support for Sunak.
However, nearly three hours after Brady’s announcement, there was still no word from Johnson – even as Sunak urged his warring party to “unite or die”, according to Tory MPs present in a closed-doors meeting.
Addressing the public for the first time, Sunak said: “We now need stability and unity and I will make it my utmost priority to bring our party and our country together.”
Just seven weeks after he lost out to Truss following Johnson’s own removal from office, Sunak pulled off a stunning reversal in fortunes, and is vowing to do the same for Britain on a platform of fiscal responsibility.
Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon, whose nationalist government in Edinburgh wants to hold an independence referendum next year, was among the first to congratulate Sunak.
“I wish him well … notwithstanding our political differences,” she said.
“That he becomes the first British Asian – indeed the first from any minority ethnic background – to become PM is a genuinely significant moment
Two European Union chiefs on Monday congratulated Sunak while stressing that “stability” was needed for Brussels and London to face shared challenges.
“Congratulations to Rishi Sunak on becoming the UK’s prime minister,” European Council President Charles Michel tweeted.
“Working together is the only way to face common challenges … and bringing stability is key to overcoming them,” he said.
The president of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, said the EU legislature was committed to having “a strong and constructive relationship with the UK”.
“At a time of enormous challenges, Europe needs political and economic stability. Our core interests remain the same,” she said.
The pointed use of the word “stability” by both highlights EU hopes that Sunak would take a more conciliatory stance towards Brussels than his predecessors, Johnson and Truss.
Those two both sought to unilaterally override the part of the Brexit agreement that left the UK territory of Northern Ireland under EU rules for goods, risking confrontation with Brussels.
It was not yet known if Sunak would pursue that course or seek a negotiated agreement on the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol in the Brexit treaty on terms acceptable to the EU.
The protocol – negotiated under Johnson then repudiated by him – was designed to preserve peace in Northern Ireland as set out in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which ended three decades of conflict and which has the backing of the United States.