At 1.59pm, Mordaunt, the hitherto leader of the House of Commons, put out a tweet withdrawing from the race, saying “it is clear that colleagues feel we need certainty today. They have taken this decision in good faith for the good of the country. We all owe it to the country, to each other and to Rishi to unite and work together for the good of the nation. Rishi has my full support.”
This meant the Conservative leadership race was over, and Sunak, the youngest UK PM since 1812 at 42, automatically became the Conservative leader. Although Mordaunt thought many of former PM Boris Johnson’s supporters would switch to her after he bailed out, in fact many of them, including Priti Patel, on Monday morning switched to backing Sunak.
Sunak becomes the UK’s youngest PM since 1812 when Robert Jenkinson, the 2nd Earl of Liverpool, became PM. Ironically, his mother’s grandmother was born in Kolkata and descended from Portuguese settlers in India.
Sunak now has a lot on his plate in his new role — he needs to unite a divided party, deal with a serious economic crisis and cost of living crisis, and tackle the highest inflation in years whilst there is war raging in Europe.
WhatsApp groups exploded in joy with British Indians saying it was the best Diwali gift ever. Insight UK put out a tweet saying Britain had got its first Indian-origin PM 75 years after India gained independence from Britain. Others compared his historic achievement to the victory of Lord Rama over Ravana. Sunak is a practising Hindu. He lit diyas outside No 11 on Diwali in 2020 when chancellor and this August, he visited Iskcon’s Bhaktivedanta Manor in Hertfordshire, where he performed gau puja. He wears a sacred thread on his wrist.
At 2.15pm local time, Sir Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 committee, acting as returning officer in the leadership election announced in a committee room in the Houses of Parliament that he had only received one valid nomination and Rishi Sunak is “therefore elected as leader of the Conservative party”.
Sunak had secured more than 180 MP nominations — more than half the parliamentary party — by mid-morning, securing a commanding lead over Mordaunt, who only had public backing of less than 30 MPs, though she claimed to have more.
Former PM Boris Johnson put an end to days of speculation about a comeback when he dropped out of the race, saying though he had got 102 nominations and felt he was uniquely placed to avert a general election now and deliver a Conservative victory in 2024, “it is not the right thing to do” and “not the right time” as he conceded you can’t govern effectively unless you have a united party in Parliament.
After Johnson pulled out, Sunak tweeted: “Although he has decided not to run for PM again, I truly hope he continues to contribute to public life at home and abroad.”
Not everyone welcomed Sunak’s victory. Angela Rayner MP, Labour’s deputy Leader, said: “The Tories have crowned Rishi Sunak as Prime Minister without him saying a single word about how he would run the country and without anyone having the chance to vote… it’s the same Rishi Sunak whose family avoided paying tax in this country before he put up taxes on everyone else. With his record — and after Liz Truss comprehensively beat him over the summer — it’s no wonder he is dodging scrutiny. Rishi Sunak has no mandate and no idea what working people need. We need a general election.”
But Liam Fox, MP, told BBC News Sunak could offer “calm, confident and competent government”. “We will be fiscally prudent so the international markets can be confident that the UK’s economy will be run responsibly. He said the uncertainty of an election is the last thing we need and “the last thing the international markets would want to see”. He challenged the idea that Sunak did not have a mandate to be PM and instead there should be an election, saying in the UK the mandate was given to the party elected on its manifesto not the leader and the party had a duty to deliver it.
“It won’t be long before there is a British-Indian prime minister in 10, Downing Street,” former British Prime Minister David Cameron had said at a diaspora event at Wembley Stadium for PM Narendra Modi in 2015. Now that has come true.