The Conservative Party has concluded its leadership contest and Rishi Sunak has won.

In the end he was the only candidate that received the backing of one hundred MPs, the threshold to make the ballot.

Boris Johnson pulled out of the running on Sunday, having concluded that he was too far behind Sunak to be in contention.

The only other candidate to put themselves forward was Penny Mordaunt, but she conceded too without getting enough support to go forward to the run-off vote of the Conservative Party members.

Rishi Sunak will travel to see the King this evening and will become Prime Minister. He will start to form his Government imminently and we expect the senior appointments of his Chancellor and Foreign Secretary in the next couple of hours.

He has a huge task ahead of him. His number one priority will be the economy and the cost of living crisis, but on a political level his objective will be to unify his party and start to heal the fractures that have led to the ignominious collapse of the Theresa May, Boris Johnson and Liz Truss Governments, the latter having been effectively paralysed almost since coming to office.

He has an opportunity to do that. He has been supported in both leadership campaigns by a wide coalition of backers from right across his party. From left to right and the shades in between. The appointment of his Government will see this borne out and will likely draw on a much wider set of talent.

The Labour Party will continue to call for a General Election, questioning the legitimacy of this Government. That prospect is highly unlikely however and Sunak should be expected to take the Conservatives into an election in Q4 2024.

Rishi Sunak

The son of a GP and a pharmacist, he was educated at Winchester College where he was head boy and studied PPE at Oxford before working in finance.

His ascendancy in politics has been meteoric. He only entered the Westminster fray in 2015 when he became the MP for Richmond in the Yorkshire Dales succeeding former Conservative leader, William Hague. Right from the start he was tipped for the top, his first government post was as Housing Minister less than three years after joining the Commons. Six months later he went across to the Treasury to become its Chief Secretary, and then six months after that, and following the dramatic resignation of Sajid Javid, he became Chancellor.

His own resignation from that post ultimately signalled the end of Boris Johnson’s tenure as Prime Minister.

The leadership bid he fought against Liz Truss was ultimately unsuccessful, but he topped the poll among Parliamentary colleagues and refused to deviate from his economic plan, whilst at the same time Liz Truss was promising huge tax cuts, red meat to that electorate. This cost him the race, but his warnings about Truss’s plans were proved devastatingly correct and Truss was forced from office.

Sunak’s policy priorities

The biggest policy priority will continue to be the economy.

His policy on reducing taxation is ‘not if, but when’, but ‘when’ is undoubtably some way off, pushed back by the dire market reaction to Truss’s economic strategy. Sunak has told colleagues that he’s determined to balance the budget deficit first and we should expect a tightening of public spending to be announced imminently and potential increases in the tax take in the near term.

Truss had made clear that her Government was to take a scythe to the legislative agenda to focus solely on the cost of living agenda. The pause button was pressed on many upcoming Bills and regulations – Sunak will get them going again.

The agenda he set out during his leadership bid during the summer gives us a pretty reasonable estimate of his specific priorities.

He is keen to reform legacy EU law and had  previously pledged setting up a new Brexit Delivery Department to review all 2,400 EU laws in his first 100 days at No.10.

He indicated his desire to indefinitely scrap the EU financial services regulations including the EU’s Solvency II rules in efforts to trigger a “Big Bang 2.0”.

And committed during his leadership over the summer to:

  • Retain a Cabinet-level Secretary of State responsible for levelling up
  • Ensure that every part of England that wants a devolution deal receives one
  • Offer Mayoral Combined Authorities greater flexibility on business rates
  • Look further at the devolution of post-16 education
  • Keeping the Green Book under review (e.g Treasury guidance on how to evaluate policies, projects and programmes)
  • Collaborate with local leaders on the future of transport investments, including Northern Powerhouse Rail
  • Invest in key infrastructure
  • Commit the UK to carbon emissions targets and achieve net zero by 2050.
  • Reform the EU’s farming payments scheme, paying landowners to protect the environment instead.
  • Invest in new clean technologies in efforts to ease environmental pressures

H+K will be watching closely and will send another update to analyse the team Sunak appoints as he puts his Government together.