Rishi Sunak warned Conservative MPs to “unite or die” as he became the party’s third leader in two months.
Sunak, 42, will be appointed the youngest prime minister for more than 200 years by the King today. He will be the first British Asian prime minister and has had the fastest rise from entering the Commons to 10 Downing Street in modern times.
He was elected after his nearest rival, Boris Johnson, pulled out of the race on Sunday night and Penny Mordaunt failed to secure the endorsement of 100 MPs that would have triggered a vote among Tory members. The former chancellor’s victory also marks an extraordinary reversal of fortunes seven weeks after he was rejected by the members in favour of Liz Truss.
In a private speech to MPs half an hour after he became Conservative leader yesterday, Sunak sought to put the tumult and acrimony of recent months behind him, conspicuously praising not only Truss but his leadership rivals Johnson and Mordaunt. He is expected to begin appointing his cabinet tomorrow afternoon.
Sources close to the incoming prime minister said that his “absolute focus” was uniting the party, with prominent supporters of Truss and Johnson likely to be given key positions. “We are never going to achieve stability without unity,” they said. “There is a lot of very difficult stuff coming down the tracks and unless we face the tough decisions together we are finished.”
Sunak is expected to announce that Jeremy Hunt, who was appointed by Truss but supported him for the leadership, will remain as chancellor. There are also likely to be jobs for key figures from the right such as Suella Braverman. Mordaunt, whose announcement shortly before 2pm that she had failed to win enough support brought the leadership election to an early conclusion, is also expected to get a big role.
There are also likely to be cabinet comebacks for key allies such as the former deputy prime minister Dominic Raab and Oliver Dowden, who was previously the Tory chairman.
Speaking to MPs in an oak-panelled committee room, Sunak described Johnson, Truss and Mordaunt as “great friends” and “great colleagues”. He said that Britain faced “an economic crisis and a political crisis”, warning: “The public will hold us accountable for it — unless we fix it now.”
In an attempt to inject buoyancy into a party deflated by months of feuding, Sunak said: “We’ve got time before the next election. We’ve got the talent, the energy and the ideas. But we get one shot. No second chances. This is an existential moment.” He added that the party needed to “unite or die”.
He praised measures taken by Truss on energy bills, and said that “we all want to see the promises of the 2019 manifesto delivered”. Sunak received three standing ovations, and one MP present said his speech was “electrifying”.
Later, in a brief public address from Conservative headquarters, Sunak vowed to show “integrity and humility” in Downing Street, and said that Britain now needed “stability and unity”.
He praised Truss for having served the nation with “dignity and grace” during “exceptionally difficult circumstances and said he was “humbled and honoured” to have been chosen as the next prime minister, which he described as the “greatest privilege of my life”.
In her final act as prime minister Truss will chair a meeting of her cabinet before making a valedictory statement outside Downing Street and travelling to Buckingham Palace to formally tender her resignation. Sunak will follow her into the palace for his first audience with the King before arriving in Downing Street at about 11.30am, when he will address the nation.
One of Sunak’s first decisions will be whether to go ahead with a statement on Monday setting out how the government will fill a £40 billion black hole in the nation’s finances. He is being urged by Hunt not to delay the debt-cutting plan before the Bank of England holds a meeting on November 3 to set interest rates.
Dave Ramsden, the Bank’s deputy governor, noted that interest rates on government debt were now not far above their level before Truss’s disastrous mini-budget, adding: “Credibility is being recovered, at least on that benchmark measure, but that has to be followed through.”
Sunak was publicly congratulated by his predecessors David Cameron and Theresa May, but not by Johnson. His appointment was also hailed by Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister, who said Sunak represented a “living bridge” with India.
Opposition parties doubted Sunak’s legitimacy. Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, said: “Rishi Sunak has no mandate and no idea what working people need. We need a general election.”
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, acknowledged that Sunak’s election was “a genuinely significant moment”, before adding: “He should call an early general election.”
Polling has laid bare the task Sunak would face in an election. A YouGov model using a survey of 12,000 Britons found that Sir Keir Starmer was preferred as prime minister in 389 constituencies with Sunak preferred in 127.
Rishi Sunak tells Tory party: Unite or die