'Unite or die', Rishi Sunak tells Tories as he prepares to be prime minister

ITV News Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana gauges the political reaction to Rishi Sunak winning the Conservative Party leadership contest

Rishi Sunak has said the country needs "stability and unity" as he prepares to replace Liz Truss as Tory leader after defeating Penny Mordaunt in a tumultuous leadership race to become the next prime minister.

Mr Sunak, a former chancellor, secured the keys to No 10 just seven weeks after he lost out to Ms Truss in a previous Tory leadership race.

He hit the ground running by telling Conservative MPs behind closed doors in the House of Commons they face an “existential moment”.

Three MPs in the room said his message to the party was they must “unite or die”, as they focus on delivering on the public’s priorities during a cost-of-living crisis.

In his first speech as Conservative leader, he said on Monday afternoon that it is the "greatest privilege of my life" to become the UK's next prime minister.

He also paid tribute to Ms Truss, praising her "dedicated public service", while acknowledging the economic challenges the country faces amid soaring inflation and a deepening cost-of-living crisis.

'It is the greatest privilege of my life to be able to serve the party I love and to give back to the country I owe so much to,' Rishi Sunak said

“I am humbled and honoured to have the support of my parliamentary colleagues and to be elected as leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party," Mr Sunak said. “It is the greatest privilege of my life, to be able to serve the party I love and give back to the country I owe so much to. “The United Kingdom is a great country but 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 and Liz Truss during a hustings event at Wembley Arena in the summer. Credit: PA

Mr Sunak had hit the threshold of 100 nominations from Conservative colleagues ahead of a deadline of 2pm on Monday, before commanding the public support of about half the parliamentary party.

Commons Leader Ms Mordaunt struggled to win sufficient support from her fellow MPs and ultimately conceded two minutes before the deadline.

She tweeted that Mr Sunak had her "full support". “This decision is an historic one and shows, once again, the diversity and talent of our party," she wrote.

“I am proud of the campaign we ran and grateful to all those, across all sides of our party, who gave me their backing."

With his victory coming on Diwali, Mr Sunak will be the UK’s first Hindu prime minister, the first of Asian heritage, and the youngest for more than 200 years at the age of 42.

He will be formally appointed to the role in a handover of power overseen by King Charles within the coming days, as discussions take place between Ms Truss and Mr Sunak about the timing.

When will Rishi Sunak officially become PM?

  • Outgoing prime minister Liz Truss will chair a final cabinet meeting, currently scheduled for 9:00am on Tuesday morning

  • Ms Truss will then make a statement outside No 10, before travelling to Buckingham Palace for an audience with King Charles

  • After this, the new Tory leader, Rishi Sunak, will travel to Buckingham Palace for his audience with His Majesty the King

  • Rishi Sunak will officially become Britain’s new prime minister at around 11.30am. We can expect him to make a speech on Downing Street around this time tomorrow

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was among the leaders to take to social media to congratulate Mr Sunak in what is a historic occasion. “As you become UK PM, I look forward to working closely together on global issues, and implementing Roadmap 2030," he tweeted. “Special Diwali wishes to the ‘living bridge’ of UK Indians, as we transform our historic ties into a modern partnership.”

Irish deputy prime minister Leo Varadkar also sent his congratulations to Mr Sunak, saying he looks forward to the UK working with Ireland and the EU in globally uncertain times.

European Council President Charles Michel tweeted his congratulations to Mr Sunak, as delicate UK-EU talks continue over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

With Boris Johnson having ditched his own bid at a comeback, Mr Sunak will enter No 10 unopposed and avoid an online ballot of the Conservative members that rejected him for Ms Truss last month.

Mr Sunak sought to hit the ground running by addressing Conservative MPs behind closed doors in the House of Commons half an hour after his victory was announced.

Three MPs in the room said his message to the party was they must “unite or die”, as they focus on delivering on the public’s priorities during a cost-of-living crisis.

ITV News Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana has posted what was said to the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers.

Mr Sunak said this was an "existential" moment for the Conservative party, as he vowed to create a "broad and inclusive government" which can perform its duties competently.

"We get one shot, no second chances," the soon-to-be prime minister told colleagues.

Anushka Asthana says that Jeremy Hunt, who scrapped large parts of Liz Truss' mini budget, is likely to remain in his position, with many praising him for moving to try and calm the markets.

Sources told her that Mr Sunak had a long conversation with Mr Hunt during the short leadership race, in which they spoke about next Monday, when the chancellor is due to deliver his economic plan, or medium-term fiscal strategy.

Oliver Dowden, the former culture secretary, and Dominic Raab, the former justice secretary, and foreign secretary, could also be making a return to the cabinet.

Who may be brought into Rishi Sunak's new cabinet? Anushka Asthana has a list of potential names

Sir Graham Brady, who as chairman of the 1922 Committee was overseeing the contest, confirmed earlier in the day that he received only one valid nomination form.

“Rishi Sunak is therefore elected the next leader of the Conservative Party,” he said.

Mr Sunak arrived at Conservative Campaign Headquarters in Westminster on Monday afternoon to cheers from Tory MPs gathered on the steps of the building, waiting to greet him.

He shook hands with and embraced MPs and waved at onlookers, after being greeted by Conservative Party chairman Jake Berry, as well as close ally and Treasury Select Committee chairman Mel Stride and Tory MP Alex Chalk.

Rishi Sunak is applauded as he arrives at Conservative party HQ in Westminster. Credit: PA

Former prime minister David Cameron was among the ex-leaders to congratulate Mr Sunak, noting that he would become the "first Brit Indian PM".

“Huge congratulations @RishiSunak on becoming PM to lead us through challenging times," he tweeted.

Mr Cameron previously held the record for the youngest UK prime minister in modern political history, but he has now lost that title to Mr Sunak.

At 42-years-old, Mr Sunak is a year younger than Mr Cameron was when he became prime minister in 2010.

Ms Truss also tweeted her praise for the former chancellor, saying he has her "full support".

She said: "Congratulations @RishiSunak on being appointed as Leader of the Conservative Party and our next Prime Minister."

Former Tory PM Theresa May said that Mr Sunak "will provide the calm, competent, pragmatic leadership our country needs at this deeply challenging time".

Mr Sunak will be the fourth consecutive prime minister - after Ms May, Mr Johnson and Ms Truss - to come into power without the public having a say through a general election.

Rishi Sunak departs Conservative party HQ in Westminster. Credit: PA

Some Conservative Party members have said they are cancelling their memberships in response to the announcement that Mr Sunak is set to become prime minister.

Samuel Jukes, a retail worker from Birmingham who joined the Tories in 2019 and was supporting Mr Johnson in the contest, said a general election should now be called as Mr Sunak “has no mandate”. “I’m fuming right now, we never voted for Rishi Sunak,” the 33-year-old told the PA news agency.

“I’m considering leaving, not decided yet but I see a lot of members are cancelling their memberships and I might be the same. Right now I’m ashamed to be a Conservative member.”

Lyn Bond, a 60-year-old retired nurse from Bishop Auckland in Durham, has voted for the Tories since she was 18 but said on Monday that she will not do so at the next general election.

“It is insidious the way they’ve got Rishi Sunak in, they wanted him in, and he’s in… The truth of the matter is this country is going to suffer," she said. “I feel awash on a boat in the ocean not knowing where to go, what to do… I’ve never doubted what I voted for, ever, until today.”

Watch an extended ITV News as Rishi Sunak wins the Tory leadership contest

Tom Herman, from Hoveton, who is deputy chairman of North Norfolk Conservatives, said however that Mr Sunak’s road to becoming Conservative leader has been as “equally democratic” as a vote among party members.

He said North Norfolk Conservative MP Duncan Baker, who backed Mr Sunak, “consults very widely in the constituency, not just among Conservative party members, and listens to those views and makes an informed decision on who to back for leader." “That to me is equally democratic,” Mr Herman said. “He really has his finger on the pulse of the constituency.”

Can the former chancellor be the leader to unite the different factions of the Conservative party? ITV News Political Correspondent Romilly Weeks reports

As the Conservatives move on to their third prime minister since the last public vote in 2019, opposition parties have stepped up their calls for a general election to be held.

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said: “Rishi Sunak has no mandate and no idea what working people need. “We need a general election so the public get a say on the future of Britain – and the chance for a fresh start with Labour.” SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford made the same demand and said his party would back Labour in a vote of no confidence if they tabled one.

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also called for a general election, adding that Mr Sunak "must not unleash another round of austerity".

“Congratulations to @RishiSunak, I wish him well and, notwithstanding our political differences, will do my best to build a constructive working relationship with him in the interests of those we serve," she tweeted.

“That he becomes the first British Asian, indeed the first from any minority ethnic background, to become PM is a genuinely significant moment. It certainly makes this a special #Diwali.

“As for the politics, I’d suggest one immediate decision he should take and one he certainly should not. He should call an early general election."

Wales' First Minister Mark Drakeford said he hopes to "work constructively" with Mr Sunak, offering his “llongyfarchiadau” (congratulations).

"I hope we're able to work constructively together to support people through these difficult times in a way that your predecessors didn't allow," Mr Drakeford tweeted.

The Tory party chairman has called for an end to Tory infighting, saying: “Now is the time for the whole party to come together and unite four-square behind Rishi, as he gets on with the vital work of tackling the challenges we face as a country.

“The time for internal debates is well and truly over, and led by Rishi Sunak, I know we can and will deliver on the priorities of the British people.”

Going forward, Mr Sunak has the daunting task of leading the nation through an economic crisis exacerbated by the chaotic legacy of Ms Truss.

The rise of Mr Sunak from an MP to prime minister is the fastest in the modern British political era.

It has taken him only seven years to earn the top job after becoming the MP for Richmond in North Yorkshire at the 2015 general election.

The previous record holder was Mr Cameron, who took nine years, while both Mr Johnson and John Major needed 11 and Ms Truss 12.

Polling indicated the struggle Mr Sunak faces in winning back the public to the Tory party. A YouGov poll of 12,000 adults between Friday and Sunday suggested Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is favoured as the “best prime minister” in 389 constituencies compared to Mr Sunak coming out on top in 127.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know