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Rishi Sunak tells Tories to 'unite or die' and rules out early general election

  • Rishi Sunak wins Tory leadership race after chaotic few days following resignation of Liz Truss

  • Former chancellor becomes the first British Asian and non-white PM in UK history and the youngest for 200 years

  • He will now have to unify a fractured party that is way behind Labour in the polls and deal with a growing economic crisis

  • Read the full article below for full reaction and responses to Sunak ruling out a general election

Watch: Rishi Sunak to become the next Prime Minister

Rishi Sunak has warned that the UK faces a “profound economic challenge” in his first speech as Tory party leader after completing a spectacular political comeback to win the race to be the next prime minister.

The former chancellor has also privately ruled out calls for a general election and told Tory MPs that they must “unite or die”.

In a speech at Conservative Party headquarters, he said: "We now need stability and unity and I will make it my utmost priority to bring our party and our country together.”

Sunak said he was "humbled and honoured" to be chosen to lead by his party, adding: "It is the greatest privilege of my life, to be able to serve the party I love and give back to the country I owe so much to."

He will likely now embark on what is likely to be a series of unpopular spending cuts as he bids to tackle the cost-of-living crisis.

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 24: New Conservative Party leader and incoming prime minister Rishi Sunak (C) waves as he is greeted by colleagues at the Conservative Party Headquarters after having been announced as the winner of the Conservative Party leadership contest on October 24, 2022 in London, England. Rishi Sunak was appointed as Conservative leader and the UK's next Prime Minister after he was the only candidate to garner 100-plus votes from Conservative MPs in the contest for the top job. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
New Conservative Party leader and incoming prime minister Rishi Sunak is greeted by colleagues at the Conservative Party Headquarters after being announced as the winner of the Tory leadership contest (Getty Images)

It completes a remarkable few days that started with Liz Truss resigning last Thursday after just a few weeks in power and has culminated with the elevation to PM of the very man she defeated during the leadership race earlier this summer.

Sunak will be formally appointed to the role in a handover of power overseen by the King within the coming days when, aged 42, he will be the youngest PM for more than 200 years.

Shortly after Mordaunt's withdrawal was announced, outgoing prime minister Truss tweeted: “Congratulations @RishiSunak on being appointed as Leader of the Conservative Party and our next Prime Minister.

“You have my full support.”

Sunak's succession was secured after Mordaunt failed to win the backing of at least 100 Tory MPs, the threshold needed to force a run-off to go to party members, who would have voted online for their preferred leader this week.

Conservative leadership candidate Rishi Sunak outside his home in London, following the resignation of Liz Truss as Prime Minister on Thursday. Picture date: Monday October 24, 2022.
Rishi Sunak is the new UK prime minister, the third in two months. (PA)

Announcing she was standing down in a tweet, Mordaunt said Sunak would have her “full support”.

Sunak's other challenger, Boris Johnson, announced he would not be standing on Sunday, despite claiming he had the support of 102 MPs.

Publicly, only 54 Conservative MPs said they wanted him to make what would have been a dramatic – and polarising – return as leader. While some doubt had been raised over whether Johnson did have the sufficient number of MPs, it has since been reported that Johnson had secured enough support to stand.

No general election?

Sunak has moved quickly to quash opposition demands for an early general election.

Simon Hoare, a senior Conservative MP, told reporters shortly after Sunak met his colleagues in private: “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.”

Three MPs in the room said his message to the party was they must “unite or die”.

Labour was quick to criticise Sunak, who gave no media interviews in the past few days outlining how he would tackle the cost-of-living crisis or the economic turmoil that has engulfed markets in recent weeks.

Deputy leader Angela Rayner said: "The Tories have crowned Rishi Sunak without him saying a word about what he would do as PM. He has no mandate, no answers and no ideas. Nobody voted for this.

"The public deserve their say on Britain’s future through a General Election. It’s time 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.

Leader of the House of Commons and Conservative leadership candidate Penny Mordaunt leaves BBC Broadcasting House in London, after appearing on the BBC One current affairs programme, Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg. Picture date: Sunday October 23, 2022.
Penny Mordaunt made it to the final two standing to be Tory leader after Boris Johnson announced he wasn't standing. (PA)

'Historic moment'

Sunak's historic win makes him the first British Asian and non-white prime minister in UK history. A Hindu, his victory was secured on Diwali, the festival of lights that celebrates "the triumph of light over darkness" and "good over evil".

British Future director Sunder Katwala described Rishi Sunak’s appointment as a “historic moment”.

In a statement, he said: “Rishi Sunak becoming the first British Indian prime minister is an historic moment. This simply would not have been possible even a decade or two ago.

"It shows that public service in the highest office in Britain can be open to those of all faiths and ethnic backgrounds."

London’s Labour mayor Sadiq Khan said: “Politics aside, I want to congratulate Rishi Sunak on making history today as Conservative leader and soon to be prime minister."

Financial crisis

The biggest task facing Sunak will be reassuring the financial markets, after sterling and the price of government bonds saw wild fluctuations during the short-lived Truss administration and the mini-budget fiasco.

Truss had gambled everything on boosting economic growth, but instead her successor will inherit a country heading for a potentially prolonged recession.

Prime Minister Liz Truss making a statement outside 10 Downing Street, London, where she announced her resignation as Prime Minister. Picture date: Thursday October 20, 2022.
Liz Truss resigned as prime minister last Thursday. (PA)
Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives at Gatwick Airport in London, after travelling on a flight from the Caribbean, following the resignation of Liz Truss as Prime Minister. Picture date: Saturday October 22, 2022.
Former prime minister Boris Johnson arriving at Gatwick Airport on Saturday after a trip to the Caribbean. (PA)

Beyond that, Sunak will be charged with tackling the cost-of-living crisis that has seen inflation soar to 10%. He must now put forward an economic plan ahead of the expected publishing of the government's fiscal rules on 31 October.

He must do so knowing that the chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, has already signalled that all government departments will face spending cuts.

Sunak will therefore need to ensure he can secure the support of Conservative MPs to push through these plans, many of whom wanted Johnson to return and are believed to regard Sunak with some antipathy.

Foreign secretary James Cleverly, who originally backed Johnson, said the Conservative Party needs to unite around Sunak.

Tory leadership contenders Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in London as it was announced Liz Truss is the new Conservative party leader, and will become the next Prime Minister. Picture date: Monday September 5, 2022.
Shoe's on the other foot... Rishi Sunak lost a Tory leadership election to Liz Truss in September. (PA)

Cleverly, who switched to Sunak after Johnson pulled out, told Sky News: “We have absolutely got to focus on the needs of the British people. That means uniting round the prime minister."

Shevaun Haviland, director general of the influential British Chambers of Commerce business group said: “The political and economic uncertainty of the past few months has been hugely damaging to British business confidence and must now come to an end.

“The new prime minister must be a steady hand on the tiller to see the economy through the challenging conditions ahead."

Watch: Sir Keir Starmer says Tories must 'put country first' and call general election