After meeting the King, Sunak travelled to Downing Street where he addressed the nation outside the famous black door for the first time as PM, vowing to “build an economy that embraces the opportunities of Brexit, where businesses invest, innovate and create jobs”. He said he would place economic stability and confidence at the heart of this government’s agenda and warned of “difficult decisions to come”, pointing out how he had helped people and businesses during the Covid crisis and promising the same “compassion” when dealing with challenges. Sunak, a former investment banker and hedge fund partner, and his wife Akshata, daughter of Indian billionaire and Infosys founder Narayana Murthy, are multimillionaires estimated by the Times of London to be among the 250 wealthiest British people.
Outgoing PM Liz Truss had held her final Cabinet and given her last speech as PM earlier the same morning before going to see the King to formally tender her resignation. In her private audience, she would have offered advice as to who the King should call to form a new government. He can choose whoever he wants as this is one of the last prerogative powers of the monarch. A British PM must command the confidence of the House of Commons and so, by convention, the monarch invites the leader of the largest party.
Sunak arrived at Buckingham Palace in a Range Rover with his wife Akshata Murty, under the protection of Scotland Yard. He shook hands with Royal Household staff and then went inside for an audience with the King in his audience room. There the King invited Sunak to form a government. It is likely the King would have asked him to set out his vision for running the UK. It was only once that audience had taken place that Sunak became UK PM. Buckingham Palace put out a statement saying: “Mr Sunak accepted His Majesty’s offer and kissed hands upon his appointment as Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury.”
Sunak could be seen relaxed and smiling as he emerged with his wife from Buckingham Palace with a kalava, or moli, a sacred red thread, on his right wrist. He then went to No. 10 where he made his first speech as PM, reiterating that the UK was facing a profound economic crisis caused by the lingering aftermath of Covid as well as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, which has destabilised energy markets and supply chains worldwide.
He said he was elected leader of his party, and as PM, “in part” to fix the mistakes made by Truss. “She was not wrong to want to improve growth in this country,” he said. “But some mistakes were made.” He promised his government would have integrity, professionalism and accountability” and promised to “restore trust”. He struck a compassionate and friendly tone, as if trying to get the whole country behind him, saying, “I understand how difficult this moment is”.
Sunak said he was “not daunted” by the challenges he faced and that he hoped he lived up to the demands of high office.
In her speech Truss highlighted what she considered to be her main achievements — namely having led the nation in mourning the death of Queen Elizabeth II and the two aspects of the mini-budget which were not scrapped: the reversal of the National Insurance hike and the energy cap. She remained defiant to the end about her radical ideas for the UK to become a high-growth, low-tax country, even though her tax-cutting policies to achieve that sent the economy into turmoil and left the economy in worse shape for Sunak.
The Opposition has called for a general election, which Sunak has already ruled out. He made it clear he did have a mandate to govern, saying: “The mandate my party earned in 2019 is not the sole property of any one individual. It is a mandate that belongs to and unites all of us. And the heart of that mandate is our manifesto. I will deliver on its promise.”
He came across as more confident and natural in this speech compared to his first televised address as Conservative leader at Conservative party headquarters in London on Monday when he was widely criticised for coming across as wooden and deadpan. Reading from a teleprompter in that speech, he barely moved and kept the same serious expression throughout. “Daily Mirror” political editor John Stevens described him as “The Rishbot” whilst another tweeter described him as “the new Davros in David Tennant’s Doctor Who”.
“Congratulations to @RishiSunak on this historic day, this is the moment for every Conservative to give our new PM their full and wholehearted support,” Boris Johnson, who had dropped out of the race for PM, tweeted.
Huw Merriman MP, who has worked with Sunak, told the BBC that Sunak would run the country like a chief executive would run his own office. “The whole mantra is about professionalism. There won’t be these large issues that blow up under him as he is a very calm and measured person. We might be more boring as a government, but I think that is what people want. We have had enough excitement.”