Rishi Sunak set to become the UK's first non-white prime minister—and its richest

The ex-chancellor has come back from defeat to lead his party after Liz Truss resigned last week
Rishi Sunak set to become the UK's first non-white prime minister—and its richest
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Rishi Sunak will become the new prime minister of the UK after winning the support of a majority of his party’s lawmakers, in a nail-biting race that began on Thursday (Oct. 20) when Liz Truss, prime minister for just 44 days, resigned.

Sunak, who ran the economy as chancellor of the exchequer in Boris Johnson’s government, is seen as one of the more well-qualified candidates to take up the position of leader of the Conservative Party, and by default of the country. When Truss resigned, potential replacements began a race to gain the requisite minimum of 100 votes from fellow members of the parliamentary party to stand in the leadership contest. Contenders were Sunak, Penny Mordaunt, the leader of the House of Commons, and even Boris Johnson, the former prime minister, who appeared to be considering a comeback before ruling himself out over the weekend.

By Monday midday, Sunak’s camp had announced that it had already gained 185 votes, more than half of the party. Mordaunt said she had secured 90 votes, the BBC reported, but at 2 pm today, the deadline for gaining enough nominations, Mordaunt announced she withdrew from the contest, leaving Sunak unopposed.

Speaking at the Conservative Party headquarters, Sunak pledged to serve with “integrity and humility, adding: “The United Kingdom is a great country, but there is no doubt we face a profound economic challenge. We now need stability and unity and I will make it my utmost priority to bring our party and our country together because that is the only way we’ll overcome the challenges we face.”

Sunak is expected to be appointed prime minister by King Charles III on Tuesday (Oct. 25), becoming the first non-white leader of the UK. He will also be the incumbent with the greatest personal fortune. A former Goldman Sachs banker, Sunak earned some of his wealth, but the bulk of it comes from his marriage to Akshata Murty. Her less-than 1% stake in Infosys, an Indian tech firm founded by her father, is worth an estimated £710 million ($803 million). The couple’s total fortune is estimated to be around £730 million, and includes four properties in the UK and the US.

The Guinness Book of Records lists the richest UK prime minister to date as Edward Stanley, who was elected in 1852 and had a personal fortune worth about £440 million in today’s money.

Though Sunak has been a popular choice with fairly high approval ratings in polls during the pandemic and in the leadership contest, his fabulous wealth has been a problem. Is he out of touch, this private school educated wearer of $500 shoes, who built himself a heated swimming pool and a tennis court while the country struggled through the covid pandemic and toppled into a cost of living crisis? One signal that he might be was the revelation, earlier this year, that Murty maintained “non-domiciled” status, meaning she doesn’t pay tax on her earnings outside the UK. Though the loophole is legal, it’s mostly used by the rich. Sunak defended his wife’s decision, which is estimated to save the family £20 million in UK taxes.

In April 2022 Murty promised to give up the status and start paying tax on her total income. At the time of publication neither she nor Sunak’s office had replied to requests for confirmation that she had carried out that promise.

Brief history of Rishi Sunak’s rise

Feb. 13, 2020: Rishi Sunak appointed chancellor of the exchequer by prime minister Boris Johnson.

Mar. 20: Johnson announces the first of the UK’s Covid-19 lockdowns as the global pandemic sweeps through Europe. Sunak announces measures to support workers through the coming months, including a wide-reaching furlough scheme.

July 8: As covid restrictions begin to lift, Sunak launches the Eat Out to Help Out scheme to subsidise meals at hospitality venues. It will end up costing £840 million ($950 million), much more than the £500 million budgeted.

Apr. 6, 2022: Sunak’s popularity takes a battering when it emerges that his wife maintains non-dom status, meaning she can avoid millions in UK tax.

July 7: Boris Johnson resigns as UK prime minister after a series of damaging scandals. Sunak’s resignation was one of the tipping points. The race to lead the Conservative Party, and the country, begins.

Sept. 5: Liz Truss beats Rishi Sunak in the leadership contest and is appointed prime minister the following day.

Sept. 8: Queen Elizabeth II dies, and ten days of mourning begin.

Sept. 23: Truss announces a “mini-budget” plan for the economy that badly spooks the markets. They remain in turmoil for the next three weeks.

Oct. 17: Truss reverses almost all measures announced in the mini-budget, most of them the very tax cuts she had promised as part of her campaign.

Oct. 20: Liz Truss resigns. A new leadership contest begins.

This story was updated to include Rishi Sunak’s statement.