Ex-finance secretary Rishi Sunak is set to take over as the United Kingdom’s prime minister after securing enough support from his colleagues to become the leader of the ruling Conservative Party on Monday.
His only official rival in the leadership race Penny Mordaunt dropped out just before the 2pm local time deadline for aspiring candidates to present the signatures of at least 100 backers to the party’s top brass.
Unchallenged, Sunak, 42, was announced as the new leader of the Conservative Party by the head of the parliamentary group, Sir Graham Brady.
He will be the UK’s third prime minister so far this year, and the first person of Indian heritage to hold the post in the country’s history.
Sunak is to take over as PM less than two months after he failed in his bid to replace Boris Johnson during a leadership race that culminated in August and which was won by Liz Truss in a vote by Conservative Party members.
However, by October 20, just 45 days into her tenure, with her authority in tatters and facing a fierce backlash over an unfunded tax-slashing budget, Truss announced her intention to resign.
It paved the way for a fast-tracked leadership contest in the Conservative Party.
Johnson cut short a holiday and flew back to the UK with the intention of returning to office but the divisive politician withdrew his name on Sunday, leaving Sunak and Mordaunt to battle it out.
By Monday afternoon, Sunak had the backing of over half of the Conservative Party’s 357 lawmakers, well above the required 100.
Mordaunt’s withdrawal from the process Monday meant that Tory members – and the wider voting public – did not have a say in choosing the next prime minister. Rather, the candidate was chosen by the party itself.
In a statement, she said: “These are unprecedented times. Despite the compressed timetable for the leadership contest it is clear colleagues feel we need certainty today.”
She described the election of Sunak as a “historic” one that showed the “diversity and talent” in the Conservative Party.
Sunak confirmed he would take part in the leadership race with a statement on Sunday.
“The choice our Party makes now will decide whether the next generation of British people will have more opportunities than the last,” he said. “That’s why I’m standing to be your next Prime Minister and Leader of the Conservative Party. I want to fix our economy, unite our Party and deliver for our country.”
Sunak served as chancellor of the exchequer – the UK’s answer to finance minister – under Johnson from February 13, 2020, until his resignation in July 2022 as the government reeled from the so-called Partygate scandal.
Opposition parties in the UK, including the Labour Party and the Scottish National Party, have called for fresh general elections.