London — Rishi Sunak became prime minister of the United Kingdom on Tuesday after meeting with King Charles III at Buckingham Palace. The 42-year-old former treasury chief is the country’s third premier in under two months, the youngest leader since 1812, and the first person of color to serve in the role. He is of Indian heritage and Hindu faith.
“Right now, our country is facing a profound economic crisis. The aftermath of COVID still lingers. Putin’s war in Ukraine has destabilized energy markets and supply chains the world over,” Sunak said in his first address as prime minister outside the PM’s residence at Number 10 Downing Street. He paid tribute to his predecessor, Liz Truss, but said “some mistakes were made,” and that he had been chosen by lawmakers in his party, “in part, to fix them.”
Sunak, who used to work in finance, is — alongside his wife, tech heiress Akshata Murty — one of the wealthiest people in the U.K. and served as treasury secretary under Boris Johnson. He immediately faces an economic crisis which has seen the pound plummet in value and inflation and interest rates skyrocket.
He was a vocal critic of the tax-cut-focused economic plan put in place under Truss just a few weeks ago, which sent shockwaves through international markets and eroded investor’s confidence in the U.K. Despite virtually all of that plan being scrapped shortly after it was announced, global confidence in Britain’s economic stability has yet to recover.
“I will place economic stability and confidence at the heart of this government’s agenda,” Sunak said Tuesday. “This will mean difficult decisions to come.”
Sunak was selected by Conservative members of parliament to replace Truss as leader of Britain’s Conservative Party, and therefore as prime minister, on Monday, after gaining the support of over 100 of his party’s lawmakers.
U.K. prime ministers are not chosen directly through general elections; they are typically the leaders of the parties that hold the most seats in parliament. Thus, the Conservative Party process of selecting a new leader, as it holds a majority in parliament, was also to determine who would serve as the new premier.
“The government I lead will not leave the next generation – your children and grandchildren – with a debt to settle that we were too weak to pay ourselves,” Sunak said Tuesday. “I will unite our country, not with words, but with action. I will work day in and day out to deliver for you. This government will have integrity, professionalism, and accountability at every level. Trust is earned, and I will earn yours.”
Sunak will need to appoint a cabinet and prepare for an upcoming government budget statement, scheduled for Monday, which will lay out how he will fill a fiscal hole exacerbated by Truss’ economic plan and inflation.
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