Rishi Sunak Becomes UK Prime Minister

The 42-year-old billionaire makes history in many ways.

WaPo (“Rishi Sunak to become U.K. prime minister, first person of color in role“):

After months of political fever, Britain on Tuesday will get a new prime minister, the third in two months, with the country now looking to Rishi Sunak — a former finance minister and hedge-fund manager, a 42-year-old whiz kid, richer than the royals — to beat back the harshest economic head winds here in a generation, including some of his own creation.

Sunak, a practicing Hindu of Indian descent, will be the first person of color to serve in Britain’s highest office, and his Conservative Party leadership win Monday, coinciding with the festival of Diwali, marked a moment of jubilation among many in Britain with South Asian heritage.

Sunak’s rise to the top office is especially significant in a country that has sometimes struggled to grapple with the legacy of its colonialist past. Britain ruled India for almost a century, from 1858 to 1947, and the modern-day United Kingdom is filled with the children and grandchildren of immigrants from the former realm.


Others in Britain were not so celebratory — for the fact was that members of the public in this race were mere spectators, with no role to play, as Conservative Party lawmakers in the House of Commons concluded, based on votes by 357 members, that Sunak was their savior.

In a brief televised address, his first as Tory leader, Sunak paid tribute to the “dignity and grace” of outgoing prime minister Liz Truss — whose six-week tenure was an unprecedented disaster — and warned that Britain faced a “profound economic challenge.” In those few words, the sunny forecasts of a post-Brexit “Global Britain,” previously sold by Sunak and his predecessors, began to be grounded in new realities.

Sunak vowed to serve with “integrity and humility” — qualities he suggested were lacking when he resigned from Boris Johnson’s government and led a revolt against his former boss. He called for “stability and unity” — in other words, the opposite of the tumult and divisions that characterized Truss’s tenure.

Opposition politicians don’t appear to be leaving much leeway for a honeymoon period. On Monday, they continued their calls for a general election. Labour lawmaker Angela Rayner complained that Sunak’s accession was a coronation and that the Tories could not “keep doling out prime ministers every month.” Labour leader Keir Starmer charged that Sunak was “covered in the mess” that 12 years of Conservative rule had created.

Sunak is a center-right moderate who promises to craft a prudent path to balance Britain’s books and address its sky-high debt, which is partly a result of his own borrowing. Sunak wrote big checks as chancellor under Johnson during the pandemic. He had the government cover up to 80 percent of wages for millions of furloughed British workers — one of the most generous pandemic subsidies in the world. He also promoted a month of subsidized meals in August 2020, dubbed “Eat Out to Help Out “or “Rishi’s dishes,” designed to get Britons back into eateries.

AP (“Sunak takes over as UK prime minister amid economic crisis“) adds:

Rishi Sunak became Britain’s third prime minister of the year on Tuesday, tasked with taming an economic crisis that has left the country’s finances in a precarious state and millions struggling to pay their food and energy bills.

Sunak, who is the U.K.’s first leader of color, met King Charles III at Buckingham Palace, where the monarch officially asked the new leader of the governing Conservative Party to form a government, as is tradition.

Sunak clinched the leadership position Monday, seen by his party as a safe pair of hands it hopes will stabilize an economy sliding toward recession, and stem its own plunging popularity, after the brief, disastrous term of Liz Truss.

Her package of unfunded tax cuts spooked financial markets with the prospect of ballooning debt, drove the pound to record lows and forced the Bank of England to intervene — weakening Britain’s fragile economy and obliterating her authority within her party.

Sunak — at 42 the youngest British leader in more than 200 years — acknowledged the scale of his challenge as well as the skepticism of a British public alarmed at the state of the economy and weary of a Conservative Party soap opera that has chewed through two prime ministers in as many months.


Opponents already depict Sunak as out of touch with the concerns of ordinary people because of his privileged private school background, previous career as a hedge fund manager and vast wealth.

Sunak “comes into office as not a particularly popular prime minister, but with a reputation for some semblance of economic competence,” said Alan Wager, research associate at the think tank U.K. in a Changing Europe. “The problem will be he is seen as someone that’s not broadly on the side of people. He’s seen as someone that’s broadly out of touch.”

Much of Sunak’s fortune comes through his wife Akshata Murty, whose father is the billionaire founder of Indian IT firm Infosys. The couple is worth 730 million pounds ($826 million), according to the Sunday Times Rich List.

In April 2022, it emerged that Murty did not pay U.K. tax on her overseas income. The practice was legal — and Murty soon agreed to relinquish it — but it looked bad at a time when millions of Britons were struggling to make ends meet.

That the UK’s first PM of Indian descent took office on Diwali is a poetic happenstance. Politically, he’s a fresh start for a beleaguered government but one facing an uphill fight to regain public confidence.

Labour’s calls for new elections are not unfounded. Indeed, I think it fitting given the traditions of the UK, whose 2011-2019 experiment with fixed terms was widely seen as a failure. That “nobody elected you PM” is going to dog him the rest of his term. Still, the Conservatives have the right to continue governing through the end of 2024 and they aren’t about to hold elections sooner with Labour holding big margins in the polls.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Kathy says:

    Isn’t it rude to have the coronation for the PM before the king’s?

    Anyway, as I understand, or misunderstand, British politics, and parliamentary democracies in general, the electorate does not vote for PM. Rather they vote for representation in parliament, or the House of Commons*, and the party or party coalition that has the most seats gets to place their party leader as PM (in most cases).

    I suppose under such rules, some people will vote a given party to get their leader as PM, regardless of other considerations. I think that’s the prime motivation for voting, not the character or policies of the local MP nor the policies of the party as a whole.

    *I think there’s a mild insult in that name somewhere.

  2. gVOR08 says:

    I see the AP story notes he made his vast fortune the old fashioned way, he married it. TFG took the other traditional path and inherited his. But nonetheless, “He must be smart, he’s rich.” prevails.

  3. Michael Cain says:


    “He must be smart, he’s rich.” prevails.

    He went to Stanford on a Fullbright before he was rich. Not all of the Fullbright scholars I’ve ever met were brilliant, but none of them were dummies, either.

  4. JohnSF says:

    He made a lot of money before his marriage though.
    Was at Goldman Sachs, then a partner at CIFM and Theleme.
    Though his wife’s inheritance is larger by far.

    His political skills are another matter; he only got the promotion to Chancellor under Johnson because his predecessor Sajid Javid got into a blazing row with Johnson then consigliere (and now Boris’s sworn enemy) Dominic Cummings.

    He made a lot of rookie political errors as Chancellor.
    OTOH he (or someone on his team; be interesting to find out more) effectively stitched up Johnson, Braverman and Mordaunt, and split the ERG.
    So, he’s getting better, fast.

    Thing is; Prime Minister is a job like no other.
    I think it was Tony Blair who said “it’s like trying to drink from a firehose”.
    We shall see.

    He’ll have one sobering thing to do after he’s appointed; he gets to write, the Letters of Last Resort.

    “The Prime Minister is alone when they write the letter. They get briefed on what it is for, why it exists and then they are left alone, given some paper, a shredder and some envelopes.
    “Any drafts they have made, they shred them themselves so no one ever sees it. Then the envelopes are couriered up and put in the safe.”

  5. CSK says:

    Well, that’s chilling.

  6. Andy says:

    Sunak wrote big checks as chancellor under Johnson during the pandemic. He had the government cover up to 80 percent of wages for millions of furloughed British workers — one of the most generous pandemic subsidies in the world. He also promoted a month of subsidized meals in August 2020, dubbed “Eat Out to Help Out “or “Rishi’s dishes,” designed to get Britons back into eateries.

    I guess “conservatives” really are different in the UK.

  7. Andy says:

    Imagine how much better the US would be if the House of Representatives got to pick the President!

  8. Andy says:


    He’ll have one sobering thing to do after he’s appointed; he gets to write, the Letters of Last Resort.

    So it’s the UK equivalent of Wing Attack Plan R.

  9. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Andy: Oh yeah, that’d work well–Change of administration every 2 years. Sign me up! I’m old and need entertainment.

  10. JohnSF says:

    The wretched Braverman has been appointed Home Secretary.
    Throwing a bone to the ERG, I suspect. But a mistake; she’s hard right, unscrupulous, populist, ambitious, and stupid.
    He’ll almost certainly have to sack her at some point. Trouble for the future, right there.

    Hunt remains as Chancellor. Sensible

    Cleverly as Foreign Sec; and there’s a man who regularly falsifies the claims of nominative determinism.

    Ooh, Jake Berry is out; so my suspicions that he was conniving with Sunak to stitch up the contest are incorrect. Wonder who it was, if not him. Or maybe Sunak is giving lessons in strategic ingratitude, LOL.

    Rees-Mogg out! Yay!
    Raab in; less exciting. And as Deputy PM at that.

    Ben Wallace stays on at Defence, to nobody’s surprise.
    Zahawi replaces Berry as Party Chair.

  11. Andy says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    If it wasn’t clear, I was being sarcastic. But yeah, it would be entertaining in the sense of watching a train wreck while you’re still standing on the tracks.

  12. JohnSF says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    Ah, you’re just unused to the concept of politics as gladiatorial games.
    Where, every so often, the lions get loose in the audience.


    …if the House of Representatives got to pick the President!

    TBF, better the House = MP’s than how Truss got picked: the party membership! Eek!

  13. Sleeping Dog says:


    And a scarier thought, state legislatures choosing the prez. That could be the case as early as 2024, depending on what the Supremes do.

  14. Sleeping Dog says:


    So did Trump. 🙁

  15. JohnSF says:

    @Sleeping Dog:
    Good point:
    Better to have a Trump-style lion trying to overturn the whole political system?
    Or Truss/Kwarteng style lions, coming close to blowing up the economy?

    On balance, I think I’ll take our lions.
    At least the Parliamentary system worked, when their incompetence was manifested, as per Winston Churchill’s advice:

    The loyalties which centre upon number one are enormous.
    If he trips he must be sustained.
    If he makes mistakes they must be covered.
    If he sleeps he must not be wantonly disturbed.
    If he is no good he must be pole-axed!

    And the Conservative Party membership isn’t as subverted as the Republican base seems to be.

  16. Stormy Dragon says:

    One interesting wrinkle I saw pointed out is that this means a practicing Hindu is going to be selecting the bishops of the Church of England for some period of time.

  17. Gustopher says:

    I hope no one gets too attached until he’s been in office at least 60 days.

  18. JohnSF says:


    I think he’ll clear that bar.
    He’s got the numbers.
    It’ll be when the more contentious issues come up that some Conservative MPs may get restive: Serious spending cuts, or alternatively tax increases (or both).
    Northern Ireland protocol and other EU relations related stuff.
    Migration/asylum issues (should be separate but have become linked in Con base/media minds); because Braverman will be wanting to take another run at Rwanda deportation; and possibly at European Court of Human Rights departure.

  19. JohnSF says:

    The more I think about it the more certain I am Sunak has made some major mistakes in his Cabinet selection.
    Braverman is a bomb waiting to go off.
    Cleverly is out of his depth.
    So is Raab, though at least he may have learnt from painful experience.
    He’s placating prominent faction members at the expense of competence, by the look of things.
    Be interesting to see if more able folk get subbed in at junior departmental level, able to move up in a reshuffle in late ’23.

    He will rue Braverman, though.
    You may lay to that.

  20. Mister Bluster says:

    @Andy:..Imagine how much better the US would be if the House of Representatives got to pick the President!

    GOUVERNEUR MORRIS would disagree.

    Tuesday, July 24 | Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787
    by James Madison

    Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS. Of all possible modes of appointment that by the Legislature is the worst. If the Legislature is to appoint, and to impeach, or to influence the impeachment, the Executive will be the mere creature of it.

  21. Gustopher says:

    I’m seriously wondering if a brown PM is going to trigger the same type of freak out that Obama did among the “economically anxious.”

    There are lots of differences, of course. This dude is conservative, and colonies and slavery are different, and he’s Hindu… and Brits are not Americans.

    Anyway, I hope the Brits fare better with the reaction to their first brown leader than we did.

  22. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Andy: No, I knew you were being sarcastic.

  23. JohnSF says:

    @Mister Bluster:
    Would that were true.
    In fact, current experience indicates all to often a tendency for the PM to take on presidential airs, and treat Parliament as a kind of glorified electoral college, to be curbed by party discipline, and the use of the media and the constituency parties to intimidate MPs and judiciary.

    Hopefully that may be over, for the time being, given that MPs have booted two useless PM’s in rapid succession, and installed a third without asking the tomfool membership.

    But already the government has signalled plans to grant ministers, not Parliament, control over repeal/replacement of legacy regulations of EU law incorporated into UK law.
    Not good.
    The ministerial/SPAD machine won’t relinquish it’s administrative ascendancy easily; and MPs may now be inclined to relax a bit “for the sake of party unity and ministerial credibility”

  24. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @JohnSF: “On balance, I think I’ll take our lions.”

    True enough. The economy will self-correct…


  25. JohnSF says:

    First “brown”; but not the first you could classify as ethnic minority.
    Benjamin Disraeli says hi.

  26. Andy says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    I figured that was the case, but this being the internet and a poor medium for personal communication, I wanted to make sure.

  27. JohnSF says:

    News you can use.
    Truss leaving office today means George Canning is no longer the shortest serving British PM. He died after 120 days in office, 1827.

    Though he does have other claims to fame.
    When Foreign Secretary he fought a duel with Lord Castlereagh, the Secretary for War, ordered the bombardment of Copenhagen (again – Nelson did it before in 1801), and reputed to have been “intimate” with Queen Caroline.

  28. JohnSF says:

    The public shows it is not in a forgiving mood right now:
    How much sympathy, if any, do you have for Liz Truss?

    A great deal: 4%
    Some: 13%
    Not very much: 23%
    None at all: 53%

    Screw over both the public finances and peoples mortgages, and discover the British can have a hard and bloody minded side to their nature.

    Also, a tendency to informed scepticism:
    How much will Rishi Sunak be able to unite the Conservative Party?

    Entirely: 4%
    Somewhat: 38%
    Not very much: 22%
    Not at all: 16%

  29. Ken_L says:

    A prime minister of “Indian dissent”? What are the Indians protesting about now?