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.
A relative unknown before his promotion in 2020 as Johnson’s finance minister, Sunak has since developed a reputation for attention to fiscal detail and a pragmatic approach to managing the country’s finances, an image he established for himself by steering the country through the economic chaos unleashed by the coronavirus pandemic. Alongside Johnson, the pair became something of a contrasting double act at the top of British government: While the prime minister appealed to the public with his unique humor, Sunak played the role of the sensible accountant in the room.
Who is Rishi Sunak? What to know about the UK prime minister favourite.
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.”
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 of South Asian descent. He was born in Southampton, England, to parents of Indian origin who had emigrated from East Africa.
In a significant coup for the Sunak camp, Suella Braverman — a rising star within the party’s right-wing whose resignation as home secretary last week catalyzed Truss’s resignation — also threw her weight behind the former finance minister, arguing that he offers stability amid the “ dire straits” in which the country currently finds itself.
“I need a leader who will put our house in order and apply a steady, careful hand on the tiller. That person, for me, is Rishi Sunak,” she wrote in The Telegraph newspaper Sunday.
And 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.
Boris Johnson will always be a hero for delivering Brexit.
But we must move on. It is simply not right to risk repeating the chaos & confusion of the last year.
The Tory Party must get behind a capable leader who can deliver a Conservative programme. That is @RishiSunak. 1/2
— David Frost (@DavidGHFrost) October 22, 2022
Many of Sunak’s backers seek 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 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.
Seething or celebrating? Prospect of Boris Johnson comeback divides UK
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 documentary, in 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.
Why Liz Truss resigned as UK prime minister: A guide to the chaos
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 his 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 Smith, have noted that the UK’s record-high levels of inflation began during his time as chancellor.
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.