Rishi Sunak is set to become the UK’s next Prime Minister after Penny Mordaunt pulled out of the Tory leadership contest moments before the nomination deadline at 2pm today.
Nearly 200 Conservative MPs publicly declared their support for Rishi Sunak ahead of the deadline, with no other Conservative MP reaching the threshold of 100 nominations to be entered into the race.
Speaking on the result, Sunak said: “I am humbled and honoured to have the support of my parliamentary colleagues and to be elected as leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party.
“It is the greatest privilege of my life to serve the party I love and to give back to the country that I owe so much to.”
Sunak wins compressed leadership race
The result was announced by Sir Graham Brady, Chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservatives, who said: “I can confirm we have received one valid nomination and Rishi Sunak is therefore elected as leader of the Conservative Party”.
At 1:58pm, Penny Mordaunt, the only other Conservative to have publicly declared that they were standing, dropped out of the race. Over the weekend there was a considerable amount of discussion over how many supporters herself and Boris Johnson (who never officially entered the race) actually had.
Both claimed to be either at the threshold of 100, or just below it. Given however, that the leadership race is all about momentum, it makes little sense as to why these names would be kept private. It is reported that meetings took place this weekend between Johnson, Sunak and Mordaunt, to broker some kind of partnership, however they were unable to come to a deal.
Announcing her decision to stand down from the race, Mordaunt said: “We all owe it to the country, to each other and to Rishi to unite and work together for the good of the nation. There is much work to be done.”
What does Sunak mean for the UK?
In this Tory leadership election, there has been little to no discussion of policy. In fact, since Liz Truss announced that she would be stepping down as Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak has made no public appearances.
Deputy Leader of the Opposition Angela Rayner commented that: “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.”
However, given that he set out a case for fiscal pragmatism, (refusing to commit to immediate tax cuts and refusing to commit to 3% of GDP on defence spending) during the previous leadership election, it is unsurprising that the markets reacted positively to the news.
Moreover, though there has been little discussion of policy in the leadership election, Rishi Sunak has been expressly committed to the levelling up agenda, a policy agenda that many accused Liz Truss of abandoning in favour of a growth agenda that would only increase inequality.
Since Boris Johnson announced he would not be standing for leader, there was a significant fall in gilt yields.
However, there may still be disquiet ahead. Some Conservative MPs (largely Boris Johnson loyalists) including former Cabinet Minister Nadine Dorries are calling for a general election, with all opposition parties doing the same.
Ian Blackford, the leader of the SNP Westminster group went further, calling on Keir Starmer as the leader of the opposition to introduce a vote of no confidence. In a letter to the Labour leader he said:
“I hope we can act together to stop this shambles, put maximum pressure on the Tories as they fight each other, and let the people have their democratic say in a general election.”
Rishi Sunak undoubtedly has a massive task ahead of him. His reputation as a beacon of fiscal pragmatism will certainly go some way to calm the markets, but he will need concrete and cogent action to back that up and steady the ship.
In his first public speech after the announcement, Sunak called for unity. Indeed, if he is able to keep the Conservative Party together over the next few months, he may be able to weather the storm through to 2024, and in that time make some headway in turning around the polls for the Conservatives.
After the announcement there were congratulations from Conservative MPs pouring in, calling for the party to unite around the leader. However, those of us with memories longer than a goldfish will recall that just a few weeks ago, Conservative MPs were calling for the same degree of unity around Liz Truss.
Rishi Sunak certainly is beginning with a greater level of support from the parliamentary party than his predecessor, but only time will tell how long this will last.