LONDON (AP) — Rishi Sunak became Britain’s third prime minister of the year on Tuesday, tasked with taming an economic crisis that has left the country’s finances in a precarious state and millions struggling to pay their food and energy bills.
Sunak, who is the UK’s first leader of color, met King Charles III at Buckingham Palace, where the monarch officially asked the new leader of the governing Conservative Party to form a government, as is tradition.
Sunak clinched the leadership position Monday, seen by his party as a safe pair of hands it hopes will stabilize an economy sliding toward recession, and stem its own plunging popularity, after the brief, disastrous term of Liz Truss.
Her package of unfunded tax cuts spooked financial markets with the prospect of ballooning debt, drove the pound to record lows and forced the Bank of England to intervene — weakening Britain’s fragile economy and obliterating her authority within her party.
Sunak — at 42 the youngest British leader in more than 200 years — acknowledged the scale of his challenge as well as the skepticism of a British public alarmed at the state of the economy and weary of a Conservative Party soap opera that has chewed through two prime ministers in as many months.
“I fully appreciate how hard things are,” Sunak said outside the prime minister’s 10 Downing Street residence. “And 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.”
When he was Treasury chief, Sunak became popular with the public by handing out billions in support to shuttered businesses and laid-off workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But now he will have to oversee tax hikes and public spending cuts as he tries to bring inflation and government debt under control.
Acknowledging “difficult decisions to come,” Sunak tried to draw a line under the chaos that engulfed Truss and her predecessor, Boris Johnson. He said his government “will have integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level.”
Opponents already depict Sunak as out of touch with the concerns of ordinary people because of his privileged private school background, previous career as a hedge fund manager and vast wealth.
Much of Sunak’s fortune comes through his wife Akshata Murty, whose father is the billionaire founder of Indian IT firm Infosys. The couple is worth 730 million pounds ($826 million), according to the Sunday Times Rich List.