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Tuesday 5 December 2023 Dublin: 4°C
Number 10

Who is the UK's new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak?

Sunak will now have to unite a divided party that has seen huge blows in opinion polls

RISHI SUNAK WILL officially become the UK’s next Prime Minister in the coming days following a meeting with the country’s king.

At 42, Sunak will be the youngest PM in over 200 years, the first non-white Prime Minister as well as the first Hindu to hold the position.

Sunak, the eldest of three children, was born in 1980 in Southampton to GP Yashvir Sunak and pharmacist Usha Sunak. They were born in Kenya and Tanzania to Indian parents before moving to the UK in the 1960s.

He received an elite education at Winchester College boarding school, where he became head boy. Sunak then attended Oxford University where he studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics and began to get involved in conservative politics.

Following an internship at Conservative Party Headquarters, Sunak went to Stanford University in California on an scholarship to study a business degree.

Sunak has said that Stanford encouraged him to embrace “a slightly bigger, more dynamic approach to change”, according to the Guardian.

He also met his future wife at the university, Akshata Murty, the daughter of an Indian billionaire, and after graduating he began work at several investment firms in California, the UK and India.

The Times has reported that Sunak was a “multimillionaire in his mid-twenties,” because of the estimated £700 million of shares that he and his wife own in her father’s company, and the private investment company Sunak began.

Political career

Sunak began volunteering for the Conservative Party a few days a week and by 2014 he was selected as a candidate for the constituency of Richmond (Yorks), considered one of the safest Tory seats in the country.

The following year he was elected to Parliament and supported leaving the EU in the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Sunak then served as parliamentary under-secretary of state for local government.

Sunak voted for then-Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit withdrawal agreement on all three occasions, which would have let the UK have a common customs territory with the EU until a solution were delivered to avoid the need for customs controls within between Northern Ireland and the British mainland.

When his future Tory leadership rival, Johnson, ran to replace Theresa May in 2019, Sunak supported him and later became his Chancellor of the Exchequer.

During the pandemic he was implicated in one of Johnson’s party scandals and fined in April following a police investigation.

At the time Johnson and Sunak were thought to be the first sitting prime minister and chancellor to be criminally sanctioned and both were also accused of misleading parliament by previously denying they had attended parties during lockdown.

Tax scandal

In April of this year Sunak came under fire for not declaring his wife’s shares in her father’s company on his declaration of ministers interests.

It also came to light that Sunak’s wife held non-domiciled status, meaning that she didn’t have to pay taxes in the UK on her overseas income.

She was estimated by the BBC to be saving £2 million in taxes each year.

Labour party leader Keir Starmer accused Sunak of “taxation ‘hypocrisy’ on the grounds that he is putting up taxes for ordinary Britons while his family has been reducing its own tax liabilities”.

Reporting from the BBC also revealed that Sunak had continued to hold United States’ permanent resident status he had acquired in the 2000s until 2021, including for 18 months after he was Britain’s treasury Chancellor, which required his filing annual US tax returns.


In July, Sunak was one of the highest profile resignations in the last days of Johnson’s government.

Over 50 other MPs resigned in the two days before Johnson eventually stepped down as Prime Minister, leaving the position for ambitious Tories to run for.

Many Johnson loyalists saw Sunak as a traitor to his former boss, a view that was brought up in his recent second leadership bid.

His main campaign pledges included tax cuts after inflation was under control, scrapping of the 5% VAT rate on household energy for a year, introducing a temporary fine for patients who fail to show up to GP appointments and limiting of refugee numbers.

During the summer campaign, a clip from the 2001 BBC documentary Middle Classes: Their Rise and Sprawl, went viral in which Sunak remarked:

“I have friends who are aristocrats, I have friends who are upper class, I have friends who are, you know, working class but… well not working class”.

During the televised debates of the lengthy leadership election, Sunak and Truss eventually emerged as the two most likely candidates to succeed Johnson.

He continually challenged Truss’s economic strategy of massive tax cuts, referring to it as pouring “fuel on the fire” of inflation and the cost of living crisis, and that the UK would “end up with higher mortgage rates, savings and pensions that are eaten away”.

His prediction turned out to be correct but although he received more votes from MPs in early September than Truss did, 137 to her 113, party members chose her for the role.

Between Truss’s election and her resignation Sunak kept a low-profile, he didn’t even officially announce his candidacy for Prime Minister until yesterday.

Relations with Ireland

What his leadership will mean for Ireland is currently unclear.

The short election campaign didn’t allow for much time to address policies and a new budget will be called next week to revise Truss’s decisions.

Sunak supporters have tried to portray him as fiscally responsible and this area will likely be his prioirty.

However Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris came out in favour of Johnson in the leadership campaign, which could lead to Sunak finding a replacement for him.

This would shed doubt on his recent promise to call an election in Northern Ireland if a Stormont executive cannot be reached by midnight on Friday.

Whether a Sunak-appointee would enforce this if Heaton-Harris is replaced remains to be seen.

Unionists had supported Johnson returning to Downing Street in the belief that he would push through the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, with former DUP leader Arlene Foster saying that Sunak “didn’t have the fight in him”.

It has been confirmed that Sunak will not officially become Prime Minister today, because the UK’s King Charles III is away from London and unable to meet with him.

Speaking at Conservative Party Headquarters after his leadership election win, Sunak said it was his “utmost priority to bring our party and our country together” in the face of the “profound economic challenge”.

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