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‘Unite or die’ new prime minister Rishi Sunak warns warring Tories

24 Oct 2022 5 minute read
Rishi Sunak at Conservative party HQ. Photo Victoria Jones PA Images

The former chancellor ruled out opposition demands for a general election after he won the Tory leadership race on Monday when rival Penny Mordaunt failed to win the backing of MPs.

Liz Truss, who will make way for Mr Sunak less than two months after she beat him in the last contest, congratulated her soon-to-be-successor and told him “you have my full support”.

With his victory coming on Diwali, Mr Sunak will be the UK’s first Hindu prime minister, the first of Asian heritage, and the youngest for more than 200 years at the age of 42.

He will be formally appointed to the role in a handover of power overseen by the King within the coming days, as discussions take place between Ms Truss and Mr Sunak about the timing.

Ms Mordaunt, the Commons Leader, bowed out of the race as she failed to get the 100 nominations from Tory MPs required by the 2pm deadline.

With Boris Johnson having ditched his own bid at a comeback, Mr Sunak will enter No 10 unopposed and avoid an online ballot of the Conservative members that rejected him for Ms Truss last month.

Mr Sunak sought to hit the ground running by addressing Conservative MPs behind closed doors in the House of Commons half an hour after his victory was announced.

Three MPs in the room said his message to the party was they must “unite or die”, as they focus on delivering on the public’s priorities during a cost-of-living crisis.

General election

Labour has led calls for a new general election as the Tories move onto their third prime minister on the mandate won by Mr Johnson in 2019.

A senior Tory said that Mr Sunak told the party he would not give in to the opposition’s demand.

The MP told reporters: “He is actually going to hit the ground running. We have no time to lose.

“Certainly, he said that there will be no early general election.”

Mr Sunak now has the daunting task of leading the nation through an economic crisis only exacerbated by the chaotic legacy of Ms Truss, who was ousted after only six weeks in office.

The King was understood to be travelling to London on Monday afternoon from the private royal estate of Sandringham, but Downing Street confirmed the handover of power will wait for another day.

In a statement posted online two minutes before the deadline, Ms Mordaunt said her opponent now has her “full support”.

“These are unprecedented times. Despite the compressed timetable for the leadership contest it is clear that colleagues feel we need certainty today,” she said.

“They have taken this decision in good faith for the good of the country.

“Members should know that this proposition has been fairly and thoroughly tested by the agreed 1922 process.

“As a result, we have now chosen our next prime minister.”

Sir Graham Brady, who as chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservatives was overseeing the contest, said he received only one valid nomination form.

“Rishi Sunak is therefore elected the next leader of the Conservative Party,” he added.

Sources in the Mordaunt camp said she got 90 nominations, though the number of those who publicly announced their backing of her fell far short of this.

No mandate

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said: “Rishi Sunak has no mandate and no idea what working people need.

“We need a general election so the public get a say on the future of Britain – and the chance for a fresh start with Labour.”

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford made the same demand and said his party would back Labour in a vote of no confidence if they tabled one.

Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Johnson-backer who once derided Mr Sunak as a “much-lamented socialist chancellor”, said he will “support his leadership” and urged “now is the time for party unity”.

Conservative Party chairman Sir Jake Berry called for an end to Tory infighting, saying: “Now is the time for the whole party to come together and unite four-square behind Rishi, as he gets on with the vital work of tackling the challenges we face as a country.

“The time for internal debates is well and truly over, and led by Rishi Sunak, I know we can and will deliver on the priorities of the British people.”

Loyalists

James Cleverly, who had backed Mr Johnson to return to No 10 less than two months after he left in a series of scandals, called for an anticipated Cabinet overhaul to feature the best ministers rather than focus on loyalists.

The Foreign Secretary told Sky News: “We have got to have the first 15 on the pitch. I know that Rishi understands that.”

Mr Sunak’s ascendency from MP to PM is the fastest in modern political history, having first won the constituency of Richmond in North Yorkshire in 2015.

His journey to the top job has not been without its hitches, having been fined alongside Mr Johnson for breaching coronavirus rules and having faced questions over his wife Akshata Murty “non-dom” status for tax purposes.


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Steve Duggan
Steve Duggan
1 month ago

Well thats ok then – unite and everything will be fine – for the Tories and that’s all they care about. But the people will not forget, skyhigh mortgages, food and energy costs.

WilliamsG
WilliamsG
1 month ago

He was so obviously just reading the speech from an auto-cue and producing the correct facial expressions at the appropriate sections. It could have been an android reading it out. When was the last time you saw a Westminster politician getting on the podium and speaking (no auto-cue) from their heart and with passion and not just obviously and glibly reading from a prepared speech. Another politician just happy he’s furthered his career who doesn’t really have any passion other than climbing further up the greasy pole

Ceramike
Ceramike
1 month ago

“What big ears you have Rishi” cried Little Red Riding Hood.
Rishi grinned and took away all her money and handed it over to the big bad oligarchs.

Cwm Rhondda
Cwm Rhondda
1 month ago

Rishi’s first messages are likely to be the age old Tory messages about having to “tighten our belts” and their other old favourite about the need to “take our medicine.” The Tories via their first round of ideologically driven austerity and their Brexit have been major contributory factors to the current economic mess (plus a big dose of Trussonomics). It’ll be those on low and middle incomes who’ll pay the price for Tory ineptitude. They’ll make a come back over the next two years and slither back into power. There is only one sure way of escaping the Tory snakes… Read more »

Y Tywysog Lloegr a Moscow
Y Tywysog Lloegr a Moscow
1 month ago

Are “Unite or die” the only two choices for the Tories then?

Okay, I vote they do the latter.

Fi yn unig
Fi yn unig
1 month ago

If those ARE the only two choices, the former won’t be happening. The Boris brigade are already on the warpath with the possibility of a Johnson/Farage led far right hate party re-emerging.

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