Rishi Sunak: ‘Pretty good chance things will get better’ says Neil
The new Prime Minister stamped his authority on the Conservative party by clearing out key loyalists of his predecessors.
But he assembled a team of senior figures from all Tory factions to help him deliver his vow to “fix” the Britain’s problems. A No 10 source said Mr Sunak’s top team had been selected based on “unity, experience, continuity”.
The new premier, the third in two months, insisted he is “not daunted” by the scale of the challenge ahead.
He said: “I will work day in and day out to deliver for you. 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.
“But when the opportunity to serve comes along, you cannot question the moment, only your willingness. So I stand here before you ready to lead our country into the future.
“To put your needs above politics, to reach out and build a government that represents the very best traditions of my party.”
Mr Sunak promised to “fill tomorrow, and everyday thereafter with hope” as he spoke from the lectern in Downing Street an hour and a half after Liz Truss bowed out.
Rishi has vowed to fix the mistakes of the Truss government
He brutally drew a line under his predecessor’s tumultuous 49 days in power saying that despite having “noble” aims, Ms Truss had made “mistakes.”
He said: “I admired her restlessness to create change – but some mistakes were made. Not born of ill-will or bad intention – quite the opposite in fact. But mistakes, nonetheless.
“And I have been elected as leader of my party and your Prime Minister, in part, to fix them. And that work begins immediately.
“I will place economic stability and confidence at the heart of this government’s agenda. This will mean difficult decisions to come.
“But you saw me during Covid doing everything I could to protect people and businesses with schemes like furlough.
“There are always limits, more so now than ever. But I promise you this, I will bring that same compassion to the challenges we face today.”
Rishi Sunak giving his first speech as PM outside No.10
Key allies of Ms Truss and Boris Johnson were sacked, including Justice Secretary Brandon Lewis, Levelling Up Secretary Simon Clarke and party chairman Jake Berry.
But Mr Sunak held out an olive branch by keeping Ms Truss’s “best mate” Therese Coffey in the Cabinet and along with James Cleverly and Ben Wallace in the foreign and defence briefs.
He also gave Suella Braverman, who backed him at the weekend, her former job back just days after she was forced out by Ms Truss. A No 10 source said: “This cabinet brings the talents of the party together.
“It reflects a unified party and a cabinet with significant experience, ensuring that at this uncertain time there is continuity at the heart of government. The hard work begins now and together, the Prime Minister’s new cabinet will deliver for the British people.”
Labour, the SNP and some Tory opponents claimed Mr Sunak does not have a mandate to lead the country after being crowned without a contest following a rapid turn around of premiers.
Mr Sunak addressed directly the question of his coronation by insisting the mandate secured by the Conservatives was “not the sole property” of Boris Johnson and “belongs to and unites all of us”.
Braverman has returned to her role as Home Secretary
Promising to deliver on that manifesto, he said the government will focus on a stronger NHS, better schools, safer streets, control over borders, protecting our environment, supporting our armed forces, levelling up and building an economy that embraces the opportunities of Brexit.
Mr Sunak took a swipe at Mr Johnson, forced out by rows over so-called Partygate and the way he dealt with the behaviour of his MPs. Relations between the two men have strained to the limit since their final months working together in government.
Mr Sunak said his government would have “integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level”. He added: “Trust is earned. And I will earn yours.”
Mr Johnson congratulated Mr Sunak yesterday after waiting 24 hours and said “this is the moment for every Conservative to give our new PM their full and wholehearted support”.
But Mr Sunak will be keenly aware that having his former boss and Ms Truss on the backbenches, along with some of their closest allies, has the potential to cause him problems in the future.
One senior Tory from the centrist wing of the party warned that re-appointing Ms Braverman to the Home Office would cause “fury” among half of the party as MPs are deeply divided over whether to cut net migration to tens of thousands or loosen some rules to help grow the economy.
Getting Boris allies on side will be key for Rishi
Mr Sunak’s biggest immediate challenge is agreeing a new plan to bring down the country’s debt in the wake of the mini-budget. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has drawn up a plan but No 10 is yet to confirm if the announcement will go ahead as planned on Halloween.
The Prime Minister warned yesterday there will be difficult decisions to come and Mr Hunt admits some of the measures will be “eye-watering”. Tax hikes and spending cuts are expected to fill the black-hole in Treasury coffers.
But existing promises are also likely to be in the mix, such as the pensions triple lock that Ms Truss committed to just last week. Ms Truss threw down the gauntlet to Mr Sunak in her final Downing Street speech by warning that generating economic growth remains vital.
But the markets were calmed by the arrival of the new Prime Minister with the pound rallying back to its highest levels since before Ms Truss’s mini-budget.
Mr Sunak will today take on Sir Keir Starmer for the first time at Prime Minister’s questions. The Labour leader said the change in premier means the country should be given a general election.
He told his shadow cabinet team: ““Rishi Sunak stabbed Boris Johnson in the back when he thought he could get his job. And in the same way, he will now try and disown the Tory record of recent years and recent months and pretend that he is a new broom.”
SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford also called for a general election. He said: “No one voted for this – and the Tories have no mandate to impose the devastating cuts they are now planning. Rishi Sunak shares the blame for the Tory economic crisis.”
Blackford has called for a general election
Analysis by Leo McKinstry
The transformation in the mood of the Tory party has been remarkable. Last week, chaos and acrimony prevailed as Liz Truss’s government imploded.
The flight from credibility was reflected in one opinion poll that put the Conservatives on just 14 percent, by far their lowest rating in history.
In the wake of Truss’s resignation, the subsequent leadership battle could have been the cue for a further descent into meltdown. Yet, paradoxically, it achieved the opposite by ensuring Rishi Sunak’s rapid ascent to No10 without another drawn-out contest.
Not only was the operation carried out with a ruthless efficiency which revealed that the Parliamentary party had finally rediscovered its sense of purpose, but also the victor was easily the best candidate.
As the former Foreign Secretary William Hague, whom Sunak succeeded as MP for Richmond in 2015, put it yesterday: “I struggle to recall anyone with stronger attributes of intelligence, thoughtfulness and self-discipline.”
Today, under Sunak’s new leadership, the party appears more unified and professional than it has done in months. “We looked into the grave and decided to live,” said one senior MP.
This unity may just be a veneer which could crack under the pressure of events and more economic turmoil. But if anyone can revive his party, revitalise the economy and reassure the country, it is Sunak – as he has proved in his confident start yesterday.
After his acceptance of the King’s commission at the Palace to form a new government, he made his first address to the nation as Prime Minister from a lectern in front of No10.
The day before, he had been widely criticised for his brief, perfunctory speech, delivered in a robotic style, following the announcement of his victory. But this performance was far more authentic and substantive. Its chief virtues were its honesty and resolution.
Warning that Britain faces “a profound economic crisis”, he said that he would take the necessary tough decisions for the country’s sake, backed up by the same compassion he showed in his vast Covid rescue package.
With deft skill, he also rejected the charge that his Government lacks legitimacy since it has no electoral mandate. In fact, he promised that his mission would be the fulfilment of the 2019 manifesto, on which the Tories had won a landslide.
Throughout, he exuded a sense of determination, reinforced by his unsmiling, solemn demeanour, and the absence of any supporting cast in Downing Street from family or cheerleaders. Then he moved on to the construction of his Cabinet. The skill set required for this job is immense.
Like a top football manager, a successful Prime Minister must be able to judge talent, motivate the team, develop a winning strategy, command loyalty and ditch failures. But in politics, there is the additional need to promote unity by ensuring that a wide range of interests and groups in the party are represented.
The great mistake that both Liz Truss and Boris Johnson made was that they founded their governments on too narrow a base, thereby missing out on Ministerial ability and providing fuel for divisions.
Sunak will never be politically stronger than he is now, and he has used his power wisely to build a cohesive, experienced Cabinet encompassing the left and the right. It is a serious body for a serious moment.
Effective ministers such as James Cleverly at the Foreign Office and Ben Wallace at Defence remain in post, as does the recently appointed Chancellor Jeremy Hunt.
There were returns for Michael Gove, one of the Tories’ most innovative minds, making a comeback in charge of Levelling Up, the heavyweight lawyer Dominic Raab, back as Deputy PM and Justice Secretary, the highly competent Grant Shapps as Business Secretary, the able Steve Barclay at Health and the tough-minded Suella Braverman as Home Secretary, a job from which she was forced to resign by Truss only a week ago.
Given that Braverman’s top priority is a crackdown on illegal migration, this is a move that will please the Eurosceptics, though it is also a highly political reward for her crucial decision to back Sunak rather than Johnson in the leadership struggle.
But a leader must be a good butcher as well and Sunak showed his lack of sentimentality by removing a host of ministers like Brandon Lewis, Sir Robert Buckland and the Chief Whip Wendy Morton, who carried the blame for last week’s fiasco over the Commons vote on fracking.
Cabinet-making can be a brutal, bruising exercise. But Sunak yesterday showed he is a leader of decisiveness and shrewdness. The Opposition knows it has a fight on its hands.
Rishi Sunak will hope to draw a line under the brutal civil war that has seen off four prime ministers in six years.
Battle lines drawn over Brexit morphed into rows over lockdown before mutating into conflicts over the economy.
Throw in a sizeable dollop of anger, resentment and disdain among MPs over years caused by perceived slights and professional disappointments and it is no surprise some Tories say the party is now “ungovernable”.
Mr Sunak is keenly away of the need to unify the party so he can put the country on a path to economic stability.
The new premier booted out a number of Cabinet ministers with close ties to Liz Truss and Boris Johnson.
But he was magnanimous in his gesture to keep Ms Truss’s close friend Therese Coffey in his senior team of ministers.
He also sent a signal to the right of the party that he wants to give a voice to them by giving Suella Braverman the key job of Home Secretary just days after she was ousted in a row over migration policy.
Even MPs who are Mr Sunak’s natural opponents felt an overwhelming sense of relief that the tortuous events of the last few weeks were drawn to a close.
But the calm of the last 48 hours will be tested when he starts to make the “difficult” decisions he warned the country to brace for.
With tens of billions to find at the time of a cost of living crisis, something will have to give.
What ends up being sacrificed could churn up the divisions again.
Will the triple lock remain, are benefits going to be increased by the rate of inflation?
Both will cost billions.
Defence spending at a time of war in Europe is something Secretary of State Ben Wallace has made clear he believes is a priority.
The NHS is widely expected to suffer a winter crisis as flu and covid rear their ugly heads to put pressure on services.
Children are still recovering from the hit to their education caused by the pandemic.
Keeping everyone in his party happy, let alone the nation, is a task of such enormity that only the most resilient can take on.
Mr Sunak promised the country yesterday he is up to that challenge. He will need to use all of his skills to not just make that happen, but persuade the fractured party and country he is making the right calls.