Britain’s incoming prime minister, Rishi Sunak, warned warring members of the Conservative party must “unite or die” in the face of a “profound economic challenge” after winning the race to be the next leader.
The former chancellor ruled out opposition demands for a general election after winning the Tory leadership contest on Monday when rival Penny Mordaunt failed to win the backing of MPs.
Liz Truss, who will make way for Mr. Sunak less than two months after she beat him in the last contest, congratulated her soon-to-be-successor and told him “you have my full support”.
With his victory coming on Diwali, Mr. Sunak will be the UK’s first Hindu prime minister, the first of Asian heritage, and the youngest for more than 200 years at the age of 42.
He will be formally appointed to the role in a handover of power overseen by the King within the coming days, as discussions take place between Ms Truss and Mr Sunak about the timing.
Ms Mordaunt, the Commons Leader, bowed out of the race to hand Mr. Sunak a spectacular political comeback as she failed to get the 100 nominations from Tory MPs required by the 2pm deadline.
With Boris Johnson having ditched his own bid at a comeback, Mr Sunak will enter No. 10 unopposed and avoid an online ballot of the Conservative members that rejected him for Ms Truss last month.
Mr. Sunak hit the ground running by telling Conservative MPs behind closed doors in the House of Commons they face an “existential moment.”
Three MPs in the room said his message to the party was they must “unite or die”, as they focus on delivering on the public’s priorities during a cost-of-living crisis.
Labour has led calls for a new general election as the Tories move onto their third prime minister on the mandate won by Mr. Johnson in 2019.
Senior Tory Simon Hoare said that Mr. Sunak told the party he would not give in to the opposition’s demand, with the MP adding to reporters: “He is actually going to hit the ground running. We have no time to lose.”
Mr. Sunak now has the daunting task of leading the nation through an economic crisis only exacerbated by the chaotic legacy of Ms Truss, who was ousted after only six weeks in office.
In an 86-second address to the nation, Mr Sunak promised to serve with “integrity and humility”.
He praised Ms Truss for having served the nation with “dignity and grace” during “exceptionally difficult circumstances”.
He said he was “humbled and honoured” to have been chosen as the next prime minister, which he described as the “greatest privilege of my life”.
“The United Kingdom is a great country but there is no doubt we face a profound economic challenge,” he added during the speech in which he took no media questions.
“We now need stability and unity and I will make it my utmost priority to bring our party and our country together.”
The King was understood to be travelling to London on Monday afternoon from the private royal estate of Sandringham, but Downing Street confirmed the handover of power will wait for another day.
In a statement posted online two minutes before the deadline, Ms Mordaunt said her opponent now has her “full support”. PA Media/dpa/NAN