Former UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak. (Flickr photo/Creative Commons license)

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The United Kingdom’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced July 7 that he was stepping down as leader of the Conservative party. A plethora of candidates are itching to replace him as the UK’s next prime minister. One of the leading candidates is Rishi Sunak. 

Sunak served as Chancellor of the Exchequer from 2020 until he resigned July 5, citing differences in economic approach with Johnson. He is the odds-on favorite of London’s bookmakers. Bookies.com notes that of the eight candidates: “Former Chancellor Rishi Sunak is the favorite at +138 as we look at the latest political betting markets with Ladbrokes. But it’s early days and the political betting is well and truly wide open.”

Punjabi Roots

Sunak’s grandparents were born in Punjab, and immigrated from East Africa to the UK in the 1960s. His father Yashvir Sunak was born in Kenya, while his mother Usha Sunak was born in Tanzania. Yashvir worked as a general practitioner, while Usha worked as a pharmacist. As a child, Sunak attended Stroud School in Romsey, Hampshire, and Winchester College, a private boarding school. He graduated with a BA from Lincoln College, Oxford and an MBA from Stanford University. 

Sunak is married to Akshata Murthy, a fashion designer and the daughter of N.R. Narayana Murthy, the billionaire founder of Infosys. 

Narayana Murthy

Sunak’s political career began when he was selected as the Conservative candidate for Richmond (Yorks) in 2014. He also worked as head of the Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) Research Unit of Policy Exchange, a center-right think tank. Sunak was then elected as the MP for Richmond in 2015. Following re-election as MP in 2017, Sunak served as the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Local Government from January 2018 to July 2019. In July 2019, he was appointed as Chief Secretary to the Treasury by Johnson. After Sajid Javid’s resignation as Chancellor to the Exchequer, Sunak was appointed to the position. 

Partygate

In order to analyze the upcoming election, it is also important to analyze the reasons for Johnson’s resignation in the first place. One obvious reason is the large number of resignations that recently occurred in his administration: over 50 MPs resigned from their positions. Many have speculated that Johnson was forced to resign by his own party, due to their lack of confidence in his leadership.

Johnson’s premiership was characterized by several scandals, from “Partygate” to sexual misconduct allegations against his deputy chief whip that he had known about but claimed not to.  

Sunak The Conservative

But what are Sunak’s political positions? Well, for one, he voted for Brexit in 2016. He has also generally voted against laws that promote equality and human rights. Specifically, Sunak voted against retaining the European Union’s “Charter of Fundamental Rights” and against calling on the government to ensure women and protected groups are not disproportionately affected by tax and benefit changes.

Further, he voted in favor of repealing the Human Rights Act 1998, against carrying out an assessment of the impact of government policies on women and against requiring an annual report from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. He has also abstained from voting on gay rights and same-sex marriage. 

What About Brexit

However, despite his generally conservative voting record, Sunak has also shown a willingness to shift his positions as time goes on. More recently, he has acknowledged the economic harms caused by leaving the EU. In a March 28 meeting among MPs, he stated that Brexit might indeed be a reason for the decline in UK trade since 2019. 

Sunak’s reputation has been affected by a couple of incidents earlier this year. On April 12, he, along with several other government members, was fined for breaking COVID-19 regulations due to attending parties during lockdown. It was also revealed that his wife, Akshata Murthy, had non-domiciled status, meaning that she did not have to pay tax on income that she earned abroad while living in the UK. 

Spousal Scandals

On April 8, Murthy stated that she would pay UK taxes on her global income and that she did not want her tax status “to be a distraction from [her] husband.” Around the same time, it was also reported that Sunak held his U.S. green card while he was Chancellor. While an investigation into both situations concluded that he had not broken any ministerial rules, this did nevertheless affect his public perception, with many seeing him as being wealthy and out-of-touch. 

His image has also been affected by the current cost of living crisis in the UK, as his response to the crisis as Chancellor of the Exchequer was widely seen as insufficient. 

Bitter Fight

The contest for the next leader of the Conservative Party has been characterized as bitter, with many ad hominem statements being thrown around. The members of the Conservative Party may have been united in their desire to replace Johnson, but there are several divisions within the party, which have only been exacerbated now that he has resigned. 

The election will take place from July until early September. Whoever becomes the next leader will certainly have their work cut out for them. The UK is facing a cost of living crisis alongside high inflation. It is also attempting an internationally challenged and criticized policy of deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda and is dealing with rising Covid cases. The next leader will also have to improve relations with the EU, which have been strained during Johnson’s premiership, due to his threats to abandon the Brexit agreement that he negotiated. 

Rakesh Peddibhotla

Rakesh Peddibhotla is a student at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is majoring in Political Science. His interests include music, exercise, and social issues.