AP

Sunak takes over as UK prime minister amid economic crisis

Oct 25, 2022, 1:07 AM | Updated: Oct 26, 2022, 12:43 am

British Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt poses for media outside 10 Downing Street in London...

British Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt poses for media outside 10 Downing Street in London, Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022. Former Treasury chief Rishi Sunak became Britain's first prime minister of color after being chosen Monday to lead a governing Conservative Party desperate for a safe pair of hands to guide the country through economic and political turbulence. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

(AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

LONDON (AP) — Rishi Sunak became Britain’s third prime minister this year on Tuesday, tasked with taming an economic crisis that has left the country’s finances in a precarious state and millions struggling to pay their food and energy bills.

Sunak, who is the U.K.’s first leader of color, met King Charles III at Buckingham Palace, where the monarch officially asked the new leader of the governing Conservative Party to form a government, as is tradition.

Sunak clinched the leadership position Monday, seen by his party as a safe pair of hands to stabilize an economy sliding toward recession — and stem its own plunging popularity, after the brief, disastrous term of Liz Truss.

Her package of unfunded tax cuts spooked financial markets with the prospect of ballooning debt, drove the pound to record lows and forced the Bank of England to intervene — weakening Britain’s fragile economy and obliterating Truss’ authority within her party.

In one of his first acts, Sunak announced he would retain Treasury chief Jeremy Hunt, appointed by Truss to steady the markets two weeks ago amid the turmoil. His removal would have set off new tremors.

Sunak — at 42 the youngest British leader in more than 200 years — acknowledged the scale of his challenge as well as the skepticism of a British public alarmed at the state of the economy and weary of a Conservative Party soap opera that has chewed through two prime ministers in as many months.

“I fully appreciate how hard things are,” Sunak said outside the prime minister’s 10 Downing Street residence. “And I understand, too, that I have work to do to restore trust after all that has happened. All I can say is that I am not daunted.”

Sunak immediately set about appointing a Cabinet, aiming to put his stamp on the government while bringing in people from different wings of the Conservative Party.

He removed about a dozen members of Truss’ government, but kept several senior figures in place besides Hunt, including Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and Defense Secretary Ben Wallace.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who resigned last week in a move that helped trigger Truss’ downfall, got her job back. A leading light of the Conservatives’ right wing, Braverman is charged with fulfilling a controversial, stalled plan to send some asylum seekers arriving in Britain on a one-way trip to Rwanda.

Sunak also brought back faces from the era of Truss’ predecessor, Boris Johnson, including Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab and Cabinet veteran Michael Gove.

Sunak aims to assemble an experienced Cabinet whose competence can erase memories of the missteps and U-turns of the past months. But the right-of-center party’s divisions over immigration, relations with Europe and other big issues, remain deep. Allies of Truss and the scandal-plagued Johnson who have been sidelined or demoted from government can now nurture grievances from Parliament’s back benches.

“This is not a fresh start. It’s the same Conservative cabinet of chaos,” opposition Labour Party lawmaker Rosena Allin-Khan said on Twitter.

When he was Treasury chief, Sunak became popular with the public by handing out billions in support to shuttered businesses and laid-off workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But now he will have to oversee tax hikes and public spending cuts as he tries to bring inflation and government debt under control. A wave of strikes over pay that has already seen walkouts by railway staff, telecoms workers, garbage collectors, lawyers and dockworkers is likely to spread.

Acknowledging “difficult decisions to come,” Sunak tried to draw a line under the chaos that engulfed Truss and Johnson. He said his government “will have integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level.”

Opponents already depict Sunak as out of touch with the concerns of ordinary people because of his privileged private school background, previous career as a hedge fund manager and vast wealth.

Much of Sunak’s fortune comes through his wife Akshata Murty, whose father is the billionaire founder of Indian IT firm Infosys. The couple is worth 730 million pounds ($826 million), according to the Sunday Times Rich List.

In April 2022, it emerged that Murty did not pay U.K. tax on her overseas income. The practice was legal — and Murty soon agreed to relinquish it — but it looked bad at a time when millions of Britons were struggling to make ends meet.

Sunak’s victory is a remarkable reversal of fortune just weeks after he lost to Truss in a Conservative election to replace Johnson.

Sunak was chosen as Conservative leader on Monday after becoming the only candidate to clear the nomination threshold of 100 lawmakers. Sunak defeated House of Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt — who keeps that job in his government — and Johnson, who failed to rally enough support for a comeback bid.

Next Sunak has to prepare for a budget statement, scheduled to be delivered by Hunt on Oct. 31, that will set out how the government plans to come up with billions of pounds (dollars) to fill a fiscal hole created by soaring inflation and a sluggish economy — and exacerbated by Truss’ destabilizing plans.

Truss announced her resignation last week and departed Tuesday after making a defiant public statement in Downing Street, seven weeks to the day after she was appointed prime minister.

Truss offered a defense of her low-tax vision, saying she was “more convinced than ever that we need to be bold and confront the problems we face.”

She leaves a Conservative Party trailing the left-of-center Labour Party in opinion polls. Sunak has at most two years to turn its fortunes around. There does not need to be an election until the end of 2024, though public pressure to call an early poll is growing.

Jill Rutter, of the Institute for Government, said Sunak’s task was to show the Conservatives “are capable of governing in a fair way in the national interest.”

“If they continue to look like a party that is incapable of making decisions, incapable of making those decisions stick, then they will probably deserve to be punished by the electorate next time round,” she said.

___

Follow all AP’s reporting on British politics at https://apnews.com/hub/british-politics

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

The U.S. Supreme Court is seen, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, in Washington. The U.S. Supreme Court has h...

Associated Press

Supreme Court decision on Trump’s election status could come Monday morning

A SCOTUS decision could come Monday in the case about whether Trump can be kicked off the ballot over his efforts to undo his 2020 defeat.

1 day ago

Republican presidential candidate former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley poses for a selfie after speakin...

Associated Press

Nikki Haley wins D.C. Republican primary, her first 2024 victory

Nikki Haley has won the Republican primary in the District of Columbia, notching her first victory of the 2024 campaign.

1 day ago

An Apache group that has fought to protect land it considers sacred from a copper mining project in...

Associated Press

A US appeals court ruling could allow mine development in central Arizona on land sacred to Apaches

An Apache group that has fought to protect land from a copper mining project in central Arizona suffered a significant blow.

1 day ago

On Friday, March 1, 2024, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said yogurt sold in the U.S. can ma...

Associated Press

Eating yogurt may reduce risk of type 2 diabetes, FDA says

Eating at least two cups of yogurt a week might reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said.

1 day ago

Arizona will not approve new housing construction on the fast-growing edges of metro Phoenix that r...

Associated Press

Arizona Senate passes plan to manage rural groundwater, but final success is uncertain

A plan to manage rural groundwater passed the Arizona Senate amid concerns about the availability of sufficient water for future generations.

3 days ago

A woman pauses while shopping at a Kohl's store in Clifton, N.J., Jan. 26, 2024. On Thursday, Feb. ...

Associated Press

Federal Reserve’s preferred inflation gauge picked up last month in sign of still-elevated prices

An inflation gauge favored by the Federal Reserve increased in January, the latest sign that the slowdown in U.S. consumer price increases is occurring unevenly from month to month.

4 days ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Day & Night is looking for the oldest AC in the Valley

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.

(KTAR News Graphic)...

Boys & Girls Clubs

KTAR launches online holiday auction benefitting Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley

KTAR is teaming up with The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley for a holiday auction benefitting thousands of Valley kids.

...

Sanderson Ford

The best ways to honor our heroes on Veterans Day and give back to the community

Veterans Day is fast approaching and there's no better way to support our veterans than to donate to the Military Assistance Mission.

Sunak takes over as UK prime minister amid economic crisis