Rishi Sunak: The Frontrunner in The Race to Downing Street

Illustrated by Jeannette Khouri
Illustrated by Jeannette Khouri

Rishi Sunak: The Frontrunner in The Race to Downing Street

A new prime minister will take office in Downing Street in seven weeks.

Former finance minister Rishi Sunak extended his lead in the latest round of Conservative MP voting to determine Britain's next prime minister.

Rishi Sunak is widely regarded as the frontrunner to succeed Boris Johnson as Conservative leader and Prime Minister.

The former chancellor has won the first three ballots of MPs, but he is opposed by Boris Johnson supporters, who accuse him of betraying the Prime Minister by announcing his resignation from the cabinet.

His campaign to succeed Mr. Johnson has received strong support from former cabinet members, and he is positioning himself as someone who, unlike most of his opponents, will not cut taxes until inflation is under control.

Mr. Sunak was appointed chancellor in February 2020 where he had to steer the UK economy within weeks as the pandemic and its lockdowns began. A teetotal millennial – as he was 40 at the time of the first lockdown – many people viewed Sunak as a steady hand on the tiller.

His personal poll ratings skyrocketed after he pledged to do "whatever it takes" to help people survive the pandemic in the spring of 2020, and unveiled £350 billion in support.

Sunak's parents are both of Indian origin and came to the UK from East Africa. He was born in Southampton in 1980, where his father was a GP and his mother ran her own pharmacy.

Rishi studied Politics, Philosophy, and Economics at Oxford University after attending Winchester College. He also attended Stanford University in the United States as a Fulbright Scholar, where he earned his MBA.

Mr. Sunak worked as an analyst for Goldman Sachs from 2001 to 2004 and later as a partner in two hedge funds.

Since 2015, he has served as the Conservative MP for Richmond in Yorkshire, rising through the ranks of Theresa May's government before being appointed chief secretary to the Treasury by her successor, Boris Johnson. Also, he supported Theresa May's Brexit deal three times in parliament.

He was promoted from local government minister to Chief Secretary to the Treasury in July 2019 for his support of Boris Johnson.

Following a power struggle with Number 10, Sajid Javid resigned as chancellor in February 2020, and Mr. Sunak took his place.

Sunak was a key figure in the government's financial response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impact, including the furlough and Eat Out to Help Out programs. In the midst of the Partygate scandal, he became the first Chancellor of the Exchequer in British history to be sanctioned for breaking the law while in office, receiving a fixed penalty notice for violating COVID-19 regulations during lockdown.

Sunak announced £330 billion in emergency support for businesses, as well as a furlough scheme for employees, on March 17. This was the first time a British government had implemented such an employee retention program. The scheme was announced on March 20, 2020, and will provide grants to employers to pay up to 80% of a staff wage and employment costs each month, up to a total of £2,500 per person per month. The monthly operating cost is estimated to be £14 billion.

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme initially ran for three months, beginning on March 1. Sunak extended the scheme until the end of June 2020 after a three-week extension of the countrywide lockdown. Sunak extended the scheme until the end of October 2020 at the end of May. The decision to extend the job retention scheme was made in order to avoid or postpone mass layoffs, company bankruptcies, and potential unemployment levels not seen since the 1930s.

A tax reform agreement was signed in June 2021, at the G7 summit hosted by Sunak at Lancaster House in London, with the goal of establishing a global minimum tax on multinational corporations and online technology companies. The OECD signed an agreement to join the tax reform plan in October 2021.

Sunak privately lobbied as Chancellor to impose a green levy, which would have resulted in higher petrol and diesel prices, to help fund the plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

The Treasury's proposed Fossil Fuels Emissions Trading Scheme sought to levy pollution charges from road transportation, shipping, building heating, and diesel trains, which together account for more than 40% of UK carbon emissions. Boris Johnson ultimately rejected the proposal, telling officials that he did not want to raise consumer costs.

Sunak, as Chancellor, was pushing ahead with a new law that would allow stablecoins to be used for everyday payments, despite the Bank of England's concerns about the technology's financial stability. Sunak directed the Royal Mint in April 2022 to create a UK government-backed non-fungible token (NFT) to be issued by summer 2022.

Sunak married Akshata Murthy, the daughter of Infosys founder and Indian billionaire N. R. Narayana Murthy, in August 2009. Murthy owns 0.91 percent of Infosys, which is worth approximately $900 million (£690 million) as of April 2022, making her one of the wealthiest women in the United Kingdom. Following Russia's 2022 invasion of Ukraine, which prompted criticism of Sunak and his family, Infosys announced in April that it was closing its Russian office.

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