Sunak appointed crisis-hit UK’s first PM of colour

Sunak appointed crisis-hit UK’s first PM of colour

Updated: 3 months, 8 days, 12 hours, 25 minutes, 30 seconds ago

LONDON    -   Rishi Sunak on Tues­day became Britain’s third prime minister this year and the first person of colour to lead the former imperial power, vowing to over­come a “profound” eco­nomic crisis he blamed on the “mistakes” of Liz Truss’s calamitous 49-day ten­ure. Sunak addressed the na­tion outside 10 Downing Street shortly after his appointment by King Charles III, capping the latest extraordinary twist in UK politics following Boris John­son’s demise in July.

“Right now our country is fac­ing a profound economic crisis,” said the former finance minis­ter, a practising Hindu who at 42 is Britain’s youngest leader in more than two centuries. 

“I will unite our country -- not with words, but with ac­tion,” Sunak said, also pledging unstinting support for Ukraine even while warning of “difficult” budget choices ahead.

Departing shortly before, Su­nak’s predecessor Truss wished him “every success” -- and said she remained “more convinced than ever” that Britain needed to be “bold” in confronting the challenges it faced.

Sunak countered that the di­sastrous budget that felled Truss was motivated by a well-intentioned desire to kick-start growth but its tax-cutting measures were “mistakes none­theless”. “And I have been elect­ed as leader of my party and your prime minister in part to fix them,” he said. “And that work begins immediately. I will place economic stability and confidence at the heart of this government’s agenda.”

Sunak became the ruling Con­servatives’ new leader on Mon­day after triumphing over ri­val contender Penny Mordaunt, who failed to secure enough nominations from Tory MPs.

‘GROUNDBREAKING’

It had become a two-way fight after Johnson dramatical­ly aborted a comeback attempt late on Sunday. 

Breaking his silence, John­son offered his “full and whole­hearted support” to Sunak -- having privately blamed his ex-minister for toppling him in July. Sunak in turn praised John­son, and vowed to build on the election-winning promises that earned the Conservatives a big victory in 2019, despite their dismal standing in polling to­day against the opposition La­bour party.

But Sunak also issued a coded reminder of the many scandals that brought Johnson down, vowing his own premiership would offer “integrity, profes­sionalism and accountability at every level”. US President Joe Biden called the appointment of the first British-Indian prime minister “groundbreaking” and “pretty outstanding”.

European leaders offered their own congratulations, while Irish premier Micheal Martin reminded Sunak of their “shared responsibility” to safe­guard peace in Northern Ire­land following tensions under Johnson and Truss.

Labour leader Keir Starmer praised Sunak on “making his­tory as the first British-Asian PM”. But he added: “The To­ries have crashed the economy, with low wages, high prices and a cost-of-living crisis. The public needs a fresh start and a say on Britain’s future.” 

Sunak has rebuffed opposition calls for a snap general election after becoming the latest lead­er who lacks a direct mandate from the electorate.

Pollster Ipsos said on Monday that 62 percent of British voters want an election by the end of the year.

‘UNITE OR DIE’

Britain’s Conservative-sup­porting media hailed the ap­pointment of Sunak, a wealthy descendant of immigrants from India and East Africa. 

“The force is with you, Rishi,” ran The Sun’s headline, playing on his love of “Star Wars” films. 

But the left-leaning Guardian highlighted Sunak’s warning to Conservative MPs that the party must “unite or die”.

Truss left office as the short­est-serving premier in history, after her disastrous tax-slash­ing budget sparked economic and political turmoil.

The 47-year-old announced her resignation last Thursday, admitting she could not deliver her mandate from Conservative members -- who had chosen her over Sunak in the summer to re­place Johnson.

Sunak has now staged a stun­ning turnaround in political fortunes, and vowed to do the same for Britain as it confronts decades-high inflation, surging borrowing costs and imminent recession. But he faces the up­hill task of uniting a party riven with divisions and infighting.

Iain Duncan Smith, a former Conservative leader, said MPs now understood the “existen­tial threat” facing the Tories, and that they needed to unite or accept being “out of power for a long time”.

After delivering the now all-too-familiar new leader’s speech, Sunak started appoint­ing his top team before facing his first session of “Prime Min­ister’s Questions” in parliament on Wednesday. Finance minis­ter Jeremy Hunt -- appointed by Truss just 11 days ago in a bid to salvage her premiership -- could remain in the role after stabilising the markets.

Whoever heads the Treasury is set to unveil the government’s much-anticipated fiscal plans on October 31.

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