Rishi Sunak looked set to become Britain’s next prime minister after his rival Boris Johnson quit the race, admitting that he could no longer unite their party following one of the most turbulent periods in British political history.
Ex-finance minister Sunak said he had a “track record of delivery” and would lead Britain out of “profound economic crisis”, which experts say has been worsened by the aborted policies of outgoing leader Liz Truss.
The multi-millionaire former hedge fund boss will face one of the most daunting sets of challenges, tasked with rebuilding Britain’s fiscal reputation through deep spending cuts as it slides into a recession, dragged down by surging energy, food and mortgage rates.
He will also preside over a party that has bounced from one crisis to the next in recent months, badly split along ideological lines, and a country that is growing increasingly angry at the conduct of its politicians.
Sunak, 42, is the second Conservative MP to declare a run at the top job, after cabinet member Penny Mordaunt launched her campaign on Friday.
Sunak first came to national attention when, aged 39, he became finance minister under Johnson just as the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Britain, developing a furlough scheme to support millions of people through multiple lockdowns.
If chosen, the former Goldman Sachs analyst would be the United Kingdom’s first prime minister of Indian origin.
His family migrated to Britain in the 1960s, a period when many people from Britain’s former colonies arrived to help rebuild the country after the Second World War.
Mordaunt, who is leader of parliament’s House of Commons, has so far received the backing of around 25 politicians. More than 150 have backed Sunak. Should she fail to hit the threshold, Sunak would become prime minister. If she makes it onto the ballot, the party’s members will select the winner on Friday.
Mordaunt, who missed out on the last contest’s run-off by just eight MPs’ votes, is adamant she alone is able to bring the party together.
“I’m best placed to unite our party,” the 49-year-old told the BBC, arguing she was “the halfway house” between Sunak and Truss in the summer race.
If two candidates remain after Conservative lawmakers vote Monday, the party’s approximately 170,000 members will make their choice, with the result announced Friday.