Pride surged through the hearts of Indians across the world as Rishi Sunak assumed charge of Britain as its first Indian-origin Prime Minister on Tuesday. During his maiden speech as PM, he promised to 'fix the mistakes' of his predecessor and focus on the needs of the country rather than on politics. The 42-year-old investment banker-turned-politician is the youngest British prime minister in 210 years. Sunak is also Britain's first Hindu Prime Minister. Sunak asserted that he is "not daunted” by the high office he has accepted and hopes to live up to its demands.
"I admired her restlessness to create change. But some mistakes were made. Not borne of ill will or bad intentions. Quite the opposite in fact, but mistakes nonetheless,” he said about his predecessor Liz Truss. "And I have been elected as leader of my party, and your prime minister in part, to fix them. And that work begins immediately," Sunak said as he sought to bring stability to the UK after months of political and economic turmoil.
"I will unite our country not with words but with action. I will work day in and day out to deliver for you," Sunak, the second prime minister in as many months and the third this year. Sunak, Infosys co-founder Narayana Murthy's son-in-law, warned of "difficult decisions to come" and pointed to his record as chancellor of exchequer during the pandemic to promise that he will bring that "same compassion” to the challenges ahead.
"I stand here before you ready to lead our country into the future, to put your needs above politics, to reach out and build a government that represents the very best traditions of my party. Together we can achieve incredible things. We will create a future worthy of the sacrifices so many have made and fill tomorrow and every day thereafter with hope," he said.
On a somewhat defiant note to address the Opposition clamour for a general election, he stressed that the mandate the Conservative Party won in the 2019 general election is not the sole property of one person – with reference to former Prime Minister Boris Johnson – but 'a mandate that belongs to and unites all of us'. "Congratulations to Rishi Sunak on this historic day, this is the moment for every Conservative to give our new PM their full and wholehearted support." Johnson tweeted.
Sunak begins Cabinet reshuffle, keeps Chancellor Jeremy Hunt in place
After taking charge, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak began putting his top team in place with key Cabinet appointments and decided to keep the new Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, in place for economic stability. In another move aimed at continuity, James Cleverly will stay in his post as Foreign Secretary despite not being a Sunak loyalist.
Hunt, who was parachuted in earlier this month by former prime minister Liz Truss and went on to reverse her tax-cutting mini-budget, has been an ally of Sunak and it was widely expected that he would keep his job. It was also expected to be one of the first announcements as a signal to the financial markets, which have considerably calmed since Sunak’s Diwali victory.
"It is going to be tough. But protecting the vulnerable – and people's jobs, mortgages and bills – will be at the front of our minds as we work to restore stability, confidence and long-term growth," Hunt tweeted soon after. Another close ally, Dominic Raab, who served as Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary in the Boris Johnson led Cabinet returns to the twin posts under Sunak. Raab, who had been the chief cheerleader for Sunak during his latest run for Tory leadership, was widely tipped for a Cabinet return.
Meanwhile, many from the Liz Truss and Boris Johnson faction of the governing Conservative Party resigned soon after Sunak took charge at 10 Downing Street, with Indian-origin MP Alok Sharma losing his Cabinet Office Minister role to remain only as COP26 President to negotiate on behalf of the UK at COP27 in Egypt next month. Jacob Rees-Mogg resigned as Business Secretary, Brandon Lewis as Justice Secretary, Kit Malthouse as Education Secretary and Sri Lankan origin Ranil Jayawardena as Environment Secretary.
Liz Truss wishes success to Rishi Sunak
Earlier in the day, outgoing Prime Minister Truss chaired her final Cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street before making her way to Buckingham Palace to formally tender her resignation to the 73-year-old monarch. Sunak then arrived at the palace for his meeting with the King, who then invited him to form a government as the UK’s 57th Prime Minister and the third in just seven weeks.
"The King received in Audience The Right Honourable Rishi Sunak MP today and requested him to form a new Administration. Mr. Sunak accepted His Majesty's offer and kissed hands upon his appointment as Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury,” the palace statement said. Sunak describes himself as a “proud Hindu”.
His victory on Diwali has resonated among the Indian diaspora groups across the UK, who have hailed it as a “historic moment” in British social history. “Rishi Sunak becoming the first British Indian Prime Minister is a historic moment. This simply would not have been possible even a decade or two ago,” said Sunder Katwala, Director of British Future think-tank.
"But we should not underestimate this important social change. When Sunak was born in Southampton in 1980, there had been no Asian or black MPs at all in the post-war era. There were still no black or Asian Conservative MPs when he graduated from university in 2001. That Sunak is set to be Prime Minister during the coronation of King Charles III next spring tells an important story about our society, where we have come from and where we are going in the future,” he said.
The Archbishop of Canterbury urged Britons to pray for Rishi Sunak as he enters No.10 Downing Street at a turbulent time. "At a time of great difficulty and uncertainty for this country, please join me in praying for Rishi Sunak as he takes on the responsibilities of leadership," Justin Welby wrote on Twitter. "May he, and all leaders of all parties, work across divides to bring unity and offer stability for those who need it most," he said.
Sunak’s victory in the Tory leadership race came at the end of a dramatic few days in Westminster since Liz Truss resigned last Thursday in the wake of a disastrous tax-cutting mini-budget and several policy U-turns. Former prime minister Johnson ruling himself out from the contest over the weekend and Leader of the Commons Penny Mordaunt conceding defeat just moments before the shortlisting deadline on Monday paved the way for a remarkable political comeback for Sunak – having lost the Tory membership vote to Truss just last month.
However, his popularity as the frontrunner among his party colleagues has replicated yet again as more than half the Tory MPs came out publicly in his support. He now faces the enormous challenge of steering the UK economy through massive inflationary turbulence and also uniting the different wings of a divided Conservative Party.
(With inputs from PTI)
ALSO READ | 'Elected to fix mistakes,' says UK PM Rishi Sunak while assuming charge
ALSO READ | Liz Truss wishes Rishi Sunak ‘every success’ as she exits as UK PM