Rishi Sunak made his first speech as Britain’s prime minister on Tuesday, acknowledging the mistakes of his predecessor Liz Truss while vowing to fix the economy, lead with integrity and fulfil the promises of the Conservative Party’s 2019 manifesto.
Sunak is Britain’s youngest prime minister for more than 200 years and its first leader of colour, replacing Truss who resigned after 44 days following a “mini budget” that sparked turmoil in financial markets.
He will now need to review all spending, including on politically sensitive areas such as health, education, defence, welfare and pensions.
As he made his first speech as prime minister, to the hundreds of journalists gathered in Downing Street, he struck a more sober tone than those of his predecessors, Truss and Johnson.
The new PM revealed that he was not daunted by the scale of the challenge as he became Britain’s third prime minister in two months, pledging to lead the country through an economic crisis and rebuild trust in politics.
Promising to act to unite the country, Sunak, 42, began to make appointments to his cabinet team of top ministers, keeping Jeremy Hunt as his finance minister in a move that should offer more calm to markets that balked at his predecessor’s plans.
The former hedge fund boss, who has only been in frontline politics for seven years, has been tasked with bringing an end to Conservative infighting and radical changes in policy that have horrified investors and alarmed international allies.
He warned Britain that difficult decisions lay ahead as he looks to cut public spending and fix the “mistakes” that were made by Liz Truss during her short and chaotic tenure in Downing Street, just as the country slides into a recession.
“I fully appreciate how hard things are,” he said outside the prime minister’s residence at Downing Street where he shunned the normal tradition of standing beside his family and cheering political supporters.
“I understand too that I have work to do to restore trust, after all that has happened. All I can say is that I am not daunted. I know the high office I have accepted and I hope to live up to its demands.”
Within hours, he began to appoint his cabinet team. Hunt, who has been preparing a new budget alongside borrowing and growth forecasts due out on Oct. 31, keeps the post he gained under Truss, while ally and former deputy prime minister Dominic Raab was seen entering Downing Street.
Sunak, one of the richest men in parliament, is expected to slash spending to plug an estimated 40 billion pound ($45 billion) hole in the public finances created by an economic slowdown, higher borrowing costs and an energy support scheme.
With his party’s popularity in freefall, he will face growing calls for an election if he ditches too many of the promises that helped elect the Conservative Party in 2019, when then leader Boris Johnson pledged to invest heavily.
Economists and investors have welcomed Sunak’s appointment – Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary said the adults had taken charge again – but they warn he has few options to fix the country’s finances when millions are battling a cost of living crunch.
Sunak, who ran the Treasury during the COVID-19 pandemic, promised to put economic stability and confidence at the heart of the agenda. “This will mean difficult decisions to come,” he said, shortly after he accepted King Charles’s request to form a government.
Sunak also vowed to put the public’s need above politics, in recognition of the growing anger at Britain’s political class and the ideological battles that have raged ever since the historic 2016 vote to leave the European Union.