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The second Conservative leadership contest of the year was conducted with almost no discussion of actual policy, so what kind of prime minister might Rishi Sunak be?

When Liz Truss resigned she began another scramble for the Conservative leadership and said the next prime minister would be decided just a week later.

“This will ensure that we remain on a path to deliver our fiscal plans and maintain our country’s economic stability and national security.” 

Liz Truss

As it happened, it was even sooner than that, but the few days that followed her speech in Downing Street still allowed plenty of time for the drama and chaos of internal Conservative Party politics to play out.

People who had run to be prime minister in the last leadership election just a few weeks ago returned for another try – and so did the man who did the job before Liz Truss.


Within hours of Liz Truss resigning it emerged that Boris Johnson was entertaining the idea of a comeback. 

At the same time, Rishi Sunak, whose resignation as chancellor hastened Boris Johnson’s downfall, emerged as the favourite amongst MPs.

The battle lines were drawn.

“The majority of Conservative Party members say the former prime minister would be a good replacement for Liz Truss. In fact 32 percent of Tory members put Boris Johnson at the top of their list followed by former finance minister Rishi Sunak.”


On Friday morning Boris Johnson’s supporters were busy trying to whip up support. 

Cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg led the charge, tweeting the hashtag #BorisOrBust.

And soon after, many of the Conservative MPs who think they owe their 2019 victories to Boris Johnson, joined the chorus.

But in a sign of just how divided the party is, other Tory MPs threatened to quit if he returned as leader.


By Friday night Rishi Sunak’s campaign was buoyant, saying he had the backing he needed to make it onto the leadership ballot.

 “Yes breaking news Jonathan, in the last few minutes the Rishi Sunak team has claimed to Sky News that they have indeed reached a hundred.”

Sky News

At that point Boris Johnson was still on his way back to the UK from his holiday in the Dominican Republic and arrived at Gatwick airport on Saturday morning.

“There we go. A smooth landing. So he’s back.”

Sky News

Neither Boris Johnson nor Rishi Sunak had said they would stand for the leadership, but loyalists were out in force anyway, and Boris Johnson’s camp later claimed he also had the support of more than 100 MPs, despite having far fewer declared supporters than Rishi Sunak.

So on Saturday night the former prime minister and his former chancellor met to try to find a way to work together, but the idea that these two men could be reconciled was always wishful thinking.


Throughout Sunday morning, more and more prominent Conservative politicians publicly backed Rishi Sunak: David Davis, Grant Shapps, Suella Braverman, Kemi Badenoch and self-styled Brexit hardman Steve Baker.

“Boris would be a guaranteed disaster.” ”

Steve Baker

By the evening, it became clear that the game was up for Boris Johnson and at 9pm he said he wouldn’t stand after all.

“He’s come to the conclusion, and this is a quote from Boris Johnson, ‘This would simply not be the right thing to do as you can’t govern effectively unless you have a united party in parliament.’”

Sky News

Rishi Sunak praised Boris Johnson, saying: “I truly hope he continues to contribute to public life at home and abroad” and turned his attention to his only remaining leadership rival – Penny Mordaunt.

She was way off reaching the 100 MPs needed to have a chance, but hung on until the very last minute before also withdrawing from the contest.


“So Rishi Sunak is going to be our next prime minister. The third prime minister in a matter of seven weeks.”

Chris Mason, BBC Political Editor

“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.”

Rishi Sunak

Despite those profound economic challenges the second Conservative leadership campaign of the year was conducted with almost no discussion of actual policy, so what big decisions might Rishi Sunak take?

When he spent the summer battling Liz Truss to become prime minister he criticised her plans as fairytale economics. 

“I am saying some things that are maybe not the easiest thing in the world to hear. I’m not sitting here or standing here promising you tens and tens of billions of pounds of goodies straight away, because I don’t think that’s the right thing to do for our economy. I think it’s risky.”

Rishi Sunak

Rishi Sunak’s first test will be deciding how to fix the public finances. He’s talked about the need to bring down government debt, and was very critical of Liz Truss’s plans to pay for tax cuts with extra government borrowing.

Most of the disastrous mini budget has since been reversed but the cut to national insurance – a tax Rishi Sunak increased when he was chancellor – remains intact. Now he’ll have to decide whether he wants to increase it again and whether other taxes will have to rise too. If they don’t he’ll have to make cuts to spending.

Sophie Raworth: “What three things should people change in their lives to help tackle climate change faster? Rishi Sunak.

Rishi Sunak: “Right, ok, well I take advice from my two young daughters who are the experts on this in our household…”

Rishi Sunak says he’s committed to decarbonising the UK economy to make it net zero by 2050 and also wants to make the UK energy independent by 2045.

In the last leadership election he said he was committed to the government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda and also said the overall number of asylum claims should be capped.

Rishi Sunak was crowned as Britain’s new prime minister without having to utter a word in public, but he will soon have to confront the overwhelming set of challenges facing the country and explain what he’s going to do about them.

This episode was written by Rebecca Moore and Lewis Vickers and mixed by Ella Hill.

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