As Britain’s third prime minister in two months, Rishi Sunak declared on Tuesday that he was not intimidated by the scope of the challenge and promised to lead the nation through an economic crisis and restore faith in politics.
The responsibility of ending the political squabbling and drastic policy changes that have shocked investors and alarmed international allies has been given to the 42-year-old former hedge fund leader, who has only been in electoral politics for seven years.
He warned that difficult decisions lay ahead as he looks to cut public spending and fix the “mistakes” that were made by Liz Truss during her short and chaotic tenure in Downing Street, just as the country slides into a recession.
“I fully appreciate how hard things are,” he said outside the prime minister’s residence at Downing Street where he shunned the normal tradition of standing beside his family and cheering political supporters.
“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. I know the high office I have accepted and I hope to live up to its demands.”
Sunak, one of the richest men in parliament, is expected to slash spending to plug an estimated 40 billion pound ($45 billion) hole in the public finances created by an economic slowdown, higher borrowing costs and an energy support scheme.
With his party’s popularity in freefall, he will face growing calls for an election if he ditches too many of the promises that helped elect the Conservative Party in 2019, when then leader Boris Johnson pledged to invest heavily.
Economists and investors have welcomed Sunak’s appointment – Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary said the adults had taken charge again – but they warn he has few options to fix the country’s finances when millions are battling a cost of living crunch.
Sunak, who ran the Treasury during the COVID-19 pandemic, promised to put economic stability and confidence at the heart of the agenda. “This will mean difficult decisions to come,” he said, shortly after he accepted King Charles’s request to form a government.
In acknowledgment of the mounting resentment at Britain’s political class and the ideological conflicts that have raged ever since the historic 2016 vote to leave the European Union, Sunak also committed to put the needs of the general people ahead of politics.
While some wanted an election now, others hoped he would stay until the next scheduled election, expected in January 2025, according to workers headed towards London’s financial center. Sunak appeared to be the best of a rotten bunch, they added.
According to management expert James Eastbook, 43, “I think he was competent, and that’s basically what we should aim for at the moment.”