OPN Rishi Sunak
Elected for the first time to parliament in 2015, Rishi Sunak became Britain’s youngest prime minister in more than 200 years on Monday, tasked with steering the country through an economic crisis and mounting anger among some voters. Image Credit: AP

Rishi Sunak is the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, earning the support of a majority of Conservative party MPs and ushering in a new era at Downing Street and in British parliamentary history.

At 42 years of age, Sunak is the youngest leader of the UK in 210 years, and his elevation to Downing Street caps a remarkable career —- and comeback —- for the former Chancellor of the Exchequer. That he enters Downing Street as the first person of colour and first British Asian also marks a remarkable shift in British politics and society.

His election as the new Conservative party leader came seven weeks to the day after Liz Truss was elected by the grass roots of her party, a woman who becomes the shortest-term UK leader in history, and he enters Downing Street just four days after Truss announced her decision to resign.

His rise to the highest political office in the land comes just seven years after entering the House of Commons, a fast-tracked rise that sees him take office at a time of great political and economic uncertainty in the UK.

He will have precious little time to adjust to his new surroundings with a brimming with pressing matters in urgent need of his attention.

New leader of the Britain's Conservative Party Rishi Sunak walks outside the Conservative Campaign Headquarters, in London, Britain October 24, 2022. Image Credit: Reuters

Truss’ brief stint was marked by market turmoil and steep rises in interest rates that have added some £40 billion to the UK’s budgetary deficit. Sunak, during his failed bid over the summer to succeed Boris Johnson, had highlighted the dangers of Truss’ economic plans — warnings that have largely proved true.

Now, his experience will be needed to plot a way forward for the British economy, tackling high inflation, soaring energy costs and growth that has largely stalled as the economy hurtles towards recession.

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But Sunak too must find a way to unite a fractious Conservative party that has seen its public support nosedive in opinion polls.

The new Prime Minister faces questions too over his legitimacy, with opposition parties united in their calls for a new general election. They argue that it was Johnson — who departed from office over the summer months — who had a mandate from the British people to govern. Now, three months on and two PMs later, the opposition leaders say, that mandate has been relinquished by infighting and mismanagement.

210 years

Sunak is the youngest Prime Minister of the UK in more than two centuries

Sunak takes office at a time when the conflict in Ukraine is entering a prolonged and dangerous phase. He must decide on how Britain will move forward with the European Union, trying to work to resolve lingering trade issues with Brussels.

This changing of the guard in London marks a new chapter in a remarkable and unprecedented two months in UK politics. We wish him well, but there is much work to be done — and quickly.