Rishi Sunak announces formal bid to become UK prime minister


LONDON — Former British finance minister Rishi Sunak announced his bid to replace Liz Truss as the next leader of the Conservative Party, putting him on track to make it to the final round of candidates in the race for prime minister.

“I want to fix our economy, unite our Party and deliver for our country,” he said in a Sunday tweet.

It is the second time in less than four months that Sunak, 42, has vied for the role. Over the summer, the former UK chancellor made it to the final round in the race to succeed Boris Johnson before losing to Truss when the vote was put to party members.

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Sunday’s announcement makes Sunak the first — and, so far, the only — formally declared candidate to have collected the 100 nominations from fellow lawmakers required by 2 pm Monday to appear on the party’s ballot, according to public tallies. If more than one candidate passes the threshold, members of Parliament will select two to be put to an online vote by party members, with the results expected Oct. 28.

As of Sunday, Sunak’s strongest challenger appeared to be Johnson, the former prime minister whose resignation this July kicked off Britain’s current bout of political chaos. In his own resignation as Johnson’s finance minister, which prompted a wave of others to quit and ultimately forced Johnson to resign, Sunak said the public deserved a government that conducted itself “properly, competently, and seriously.”

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On Saturday, reports in the British media said the two men — who once worked side by side — were holding late-night talks, prompting speculation that the two could strike a deal to put their rivalry aside and form a joint ticket.

If ultimately elected, Sunak, would become the country’s first prime minister South Asian descent. He was born in Southampton, England, to parents of Indian origin who had emigrated from East Africa.

A number of Conservative lawmakers and former Johnson allies, including former cabinet members Sajid Javid and Gavin Williamson, have announced their support for Sunak. In a significant blow to Johnson’s chances, David Frost — who was responsible for negotiating the UK’s Brexit deal and later given a seat in the House of Lords by Johnson — declared on Saturday that it was time to “move on” from the former prime minister. .

Many of those backers have sought to portray the former finance minister as a stabilizing candidate who is capable of bringing the chaos of recent months to an end. Sunak loyalists also pointed out that during the previous leadership contest against Truss this summer, his candidacy received the most support from his parliamentary colleagues.

However, critics within the Conservative Party worry that he is out of touch with voters and have accused him of disloyalty to Johnson — a key source of contention for many of the party’s grassroots members among whom the former leader remains popular.

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Educated at one of Britain’s most prestigious private schools — like Johnson — Sunak has a glittering résumé, with degrees from the University of Oxford and Stanford University and a stint at Goldman Sachs. One of the wealthiest British politicians, he is married to the Indian tech heiress Akshata Murthy, whose tax affairs caused the former chancellor some political Discomfort during his leadership campaign in the summer.

And a video clip from a 2007 BBC documentaryin which Sunak suggests he doesn’t have any “working-class friends,” is recirculating online as some Britons frown upon the array of upper-class Conservative contenders.

Nevertheless, Sunak remains popular among politicians of his own party, although he fares less well among the Conservative Party’s national membership, who favored Truss in September by 57.4 percent to his 42.6 percent.

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To his supporters, Sunak is a steady hand on the economic tiller, as he correctly predicted the market crisis sparked by Truss’s policies when she slashed taxes and sent the British pound plummeting. He called Truss’s proposed economic reforms “Fairy tale” economics before she took office, an assessment that is likely to lend credence to her image of fiscal responsibility.

A blot on his record, however, is his link to the “Partygate” scandal that toppled Johnson’s government. Like his boss, Sunak was fined by London’s Metropolitan Police while in office for attending gatherings at 10 Downing Street while Britons were under severe government-imposed coronavirus lockdown restrictions. And some critics, like former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smithhave noted that the UK’s record-high levels of inflation began during his time as chancellor.

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As of early Sunday, the BBC’s count of publicly declared Conservative members of Parliament gave Sunak 132, 55 for Johnson and 23 for Penny Mordaunt.

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