Rishi Sunak becomes UK prime minister, promising to unite the country “with action.”

Image Credit: Yaopey Yong on Unsplash

Laura Kenny investigates the new UK PM’s political agenda

Rishi Sunak became Britain’s new Prime Minister on Tuesday, the 25th of October, after meeting King Charles III at Buckingham Palace and accepting his invitation to form a government in his name. Mr Sunak steps into this role as the third prime minister of the year following the abrupt resignation of his predecessor Liz Truss.

Truss departed after her experimental economic plan sent Britain into financial mayhem. Speaking outside 10 Downing Street, Truss defended her economic vision, which sought to deliver “growth” and “lower taxes.” “I am more convinced than ever that we need to be bold and confront the problems we face,” she said.

Rishi Sunak enters his new role as the United Kingdom’s first Prime Minister of colour. At age 42, he is also the youngest leader in more than 200 years. Mr Sunak was born in Southampton in 1980 to parents of Indian origin, who had come to the United Kingdom from east Africa. His father was an NHS Family GP, and his mother ran her own pharmacy. The eldest of three children, Sunak was educated at Winchester College and later studied politics, philosophy, and economics at the University of Oxford.  He went on to study at Stanford University, where he gained a Masters in Business Administration and met his future wife, Akshata Murty.

In his first address as Prime Minister, Mr Sunak paid tribute to Liz Truss and acknowledged her desire to “improve growth in this country” but said that “mistakes were made.” He vowed to restore economic stability during a “profound economic crisis” and focus on Britain’s recovery from a global pandemic. He pledged that the United Kingdom would continue fighting Putin’s war in Ukraine. “I will unite our country not with words but with action,” he affirmed. The address advised the public that critical policies moving forward would be informed by the 2019 Tory Manifesto, with its slogan “Get Brexit Done, Unleash Britain’s potential.” Against this backdrop, the new Prime Minister promised to deliver a stronger NHS, tighter border restrictions and an economy that would embrace the opportunities that Brexit presented.

In his first order of business, Mr Sunak appointed his cabinet with a distinct stamp by immediately removing ten members who had served under Liz Truss. He retained several ministers in their previous posts, including Jeremy Hunt, who will continue as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace also remain in their previous roles. Dominic Raab was selected as Deputy Prime Minister, while Suella Braverman was reappointed as Home Secretary less than a week after her resignation for breaching government rules. MPs described her reappointment as setting a ‘dangerous precedent.’

Following the appointment of cabinet members, Mr Sunak turned his attention to delivering an economic plan to stabilise the country’s economic crisis. Unveiling the five-year plan on the 17th of November, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt, presented a 55-billion-pound financial package made up of tax increases and spending cuts. He acknowledged that the package would be painful and felt by ordinary citizens. However, he stressed that “difficult decisions” were necessary to restore the fiscal hole created by high inflation rates and soaring energy and food prices. Mr Hunt stated that the budget would prioritise stability, growth, and public services and ultimately drive forward “a high wage, high-skill economy.”

The statement featured the government’s promise to deliver an additional 3.5 billion pounds to the NHS over two years and 4.7 billion pounds to social care. Mr Hunt was optimistic that these spending increases would address workforce shortages and pressure in the social care sector. The budget also outlined a 2.3-billion-pound investment per annum into British schools and the implementation of a new skills reform programme.

The finance minister acknowledged the profound impact of the Ukraine war on rising energy costs. However, he stressed the need to invest in renewable energy to achieve energy independence and efficiency. Mr Hunt announced that the government’s roadmap featured plans to build a new nuclear power plant which would reduce energy consumption, create new jobs and industry, and adhere to the government’s goal to reach net zero emissions by 2030.

The government’s financial package emphasised investing in public roads, rail, broadband and 5G to “enable wealth and opportunity to spread to every corner of the country.” Mr Hunt was emphatic that improved infrastructure would enable economic prosperity. Reading the statement, he announced the simultaneous goal to support British innovation and entrepreneurship, drawing upon the freedom that Brexit presents. He expressed the government’s wish to make Britain the “next Silicon Valley and the home of British commercial success.”

On entering his new role, Mr Sunak was also the first Prime Minister to attend the British Irish Council in 15 years. The British PM met with Taoiseach Micheál Martin to resolve the Northern Irish Protocol, a long-running trade row concerning post-Brexit checks on goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The DUP at Stormont has insisted it will not return to a Stormont Executive until the economic barriers have been lifted. Mr Sunak spoke to reporters following the summit and announced that their meeting was positive and that solutions had been discussed. “I’m pleased with the progress we’re making in these early days in this job, and my focus is to try and find a resolution here,” he said.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin stated that his discussions with Sunak had opened a “window of opportunity” and that their meeting had significantly improved the relationship between Britain and Ireland. The Taoiseach added that he was ‘struck by the Prime Minister’s pragmatic approach and understanding for where the European Union are coming from.’ Both the Taoiseach and British PM stressed the importance of working together to resolve shared challenges and international issues, such as the War in Ukraine and a global economic crisis.

(This article was initially written for publication alongside our November 15th issue, and was delayed due to unforseen circumstances.)