Oct 24, 2022
Rishi Sunak Elected Prime Minister Of U.K. Transcript
Rishi Sunak was named as Britain’s next prime minister following the resignation of Liz Truss. Read the transcript here.
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Speaker 1 (00:01):
We got some breaking news out of the UK this morning.
Speaker 2 (00:03):
That’s right. Britain’s Conservative Party has announced that Rishi Sunak is their new leader after his rival Penny Mordaunt backed out of the race just before the deadline. It means Sunak will now become Prime Minister.
Speaker 1 (00:16):
Let’s get more on this with Dr. Leslie Vinjamuri. She is the director of the US and the America’s program and Dean of the Queen Elizabeth II Academy for Leadership in International Affairs at Chatham House. Thank you so much for joining us, doctor. So, first of all, just your reaction to this news that Sunak will become Britain’s next Prime Minister, the third Prime Minister this year, and the first British Asian leader of the country.
Dr. Leslie Vinjamuri (00:38):
It is quite extraordinary. I think we’ve sort of anticipated, at least for the last several hours, that this is how it would go, although it’s moved very quickly over the weekend. Remember that just yesterday people were watching to see whether Boris Johnson would get the necessary support from those 100 MPs. When that decision was made, I think people really very quickly focused in on Rishi Sunak. It is remarkable from the perspective of identity. First British Asian Prime Minister. This is a man who is educated at Stanford Business School, so has strong knowledge and deep connections to the United States on many dimensions. It’s quite a significant decision.
But I think when it comes to the policy and where we’re heading, it’s really [inaudible 00:01:21] the markets I think we’re looking for this kind of leadership after the tremendous economic turmoil that the UK has seen over the last several weeks of Liz Truss’ leadership. Remember that when Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss were up against each other, Rishi was initially saying that there should be no tax cuts, and he was a sole voice, a lone voice in that. And he eventually moved his position just simply out of sheer public pressure and pressure from his own party. But I think he’s got a very different sense of the markets and what’s needed economically. I think people are hopeful that now Britain will begin to recalibrate and get back onto a smooth path. It’s a very tall order that he faces. Very turbulent time here in the UK. But I think this is a good decision for the UK.
Speaker 2 (02:14):
Leslie, his job before this was the British equivalent of the Treasury Secretary. Right? And it has been an incredibly turbulent period of time since Liz Truss took over where you saw the pound fluctuate in value and lots of fears worldwide about the viability of the British economy. What can he do in these first few weeks to level that all out and stabilize things?
Dr. Leslie Vinjamuri (02:39):
We’re expecting the announcement of a budget on October 31st. The first question, I guess, will be whether Jeremy Hunt remains in his post. As Chancellor of the Exchequer, I think it’s widely expected that Rishi Sunak will keep him there, that there will be a real focus on managing Britain’s debt on calibrating the tax question of taxes that [inaudible 00:03:14] was widely seen as being [inaudible 00:03:16] already been walked back. As Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak is really going to have to focus first and foremost, as you’ve indicated, on stabilizing the British economy, and that is a very tall order right now. But I think the response from the markets to this news, at least in the short-term, is likely to be very good.
Speaker 1 (03:33):
The reason we know that Sunak will be the next Prime Minister is because Penny Mordaunt put out a statement just moments ago. Part of that statement says, “These are unprecedented times. Despite the compressed timetable for the leadership contest, it is clear that colleagues feel we need certainty today. They have taken this decision in good faith for the good of the country.” That begs the question, though, we know opposition parties, that they’ve been pushing for a general election, so do you think Sumac is likely to announce a general election anytime soon, which will really mean the country has to decide which party should be in charge of the country after so much turmoil?
Dr. Leslie Vinjamuri (04:08):
No. I think that’s very unlikely right now. Again, he doesn’t need to. Constitutionally, this is how leaders are chosen in the UK, despite the extraordinary turmoil that we’ve seen just in the last six or seven weeks. He will now really seek to, again, put the economy back on track. You’re right that the leader of the opposition, Keir Starmer, is calling for an election. There will be plenty of people across the country who feel like this — that this leader doesn’t have the legitimacy that he needs. It’s obviously something that the UK hasn’t had before, a candidate who is Asian, not white. That’s bound to produce some division internally. But I think he’s going to have to demonstrate through his leadership, through his policies, that he can stabilize the economy, stabilize the country, and he has to get his party behind him. And that, of course, is a very tall order in a party that’s been deeply divided. So, really, I will wait to see whether he puts Penny Mordaunt in his cabinet, whether [inaudible 00:05:13].
Speaker 1 (05:21):
Apologies. We are having some technical issues here. We’re going to see if we can get those fixed here with Dr. Vinjamuri as we’ve been talking with her about this developing news that has just come across this hour, which is that Rishi Sunak is going to become the next UK Prime Minister, and that’s because the other person who seemed to be a potential front runner, Penny Mordaunt, announced that she is not going to be seeking it, likely because she didn’t get the 100 MPs that she would’ve needed to have, essentially, an election within the Conservative party. Dr. Vinjamuri, I think we have you back. I guess help us finish your thought. You were starting to talk about Boris Johnson there and who might be in the cabinet now.
Dr. Leslie Vinjamuri (05:59):
I think there’s a question whether Penny Mordaunt, who of course was also aiming for this position, whether she will be in the cabinet. I think a lot of people are assuming that that would be the right thing for the party. Again, he’s got to unite his party behind him. And Boris Johnson [inaudible 00:06:19] support the new Prime Minister when Rishi… Remember, Rishi Sunak has to be made Prime Minister by the King, by King Charles, but once that’s decided, it will be really up to these different factions within the Conservative Party to decide whether to throw their support behind him. And this is really essential when it comes to that broader question of having popular legitimacy in a context where so few people have been involved in selecting Britain’s next prime minister and its first Asian Prime Minister
Speaker 2 (06:52):
Leslie, Rishi Sunak has had some troubles in the past with his public image because he talks about austerity in the economy, but this is a man who is personally extremely wealthy. How has he been able to reconcile his messages about the economy with his own wealth?
Dr. Leslie Vinjamuri (07:12):
It’s been very difficult. We saw that he came under pressure not so long ago because his wife is very wealthy, had a non-domicile status, so the money that she was earning outside of the country wasn’t being taxed. This is a very difficult issue anywhere, but I’d say certainly here in the UK, where people have a different metric of individual wealth perhaps than we see in the United States. So, that will be an ongoing issue for him, but, again, I think at this moment, people will be looking to see and how does he deal with the cost of living crisis that people are facing today in a context of inflation that’s around 10%? And cab Jeremy Hunt as his Chancellor of the Exchequer, assuming that he keeps Jeremy Hunt in position, can he really help him see this very turbulent time through in the UK?
Speaker 1 (08:08):
Quickly, we have about 30 seconds here, what did you make of this talk of Boris Johnson potentially throwing his name back in the ring here?
Dr. Leslie Vinjamuri (08:15):
I mean, I think a lot of people were very concerned over the weekend that Boris Johnson would get the numbers, come back, and the party would split over that decision. And it hasn’t happened.
Speaker 1 (08:27):
And that is not, of course, what is happening.