The other potential candidate, Penny Mordaunt, conceded after failing to meet the threshold of nominations from lawmakers required to progress to the next stage of the race. Moments before the number of nominations were due to be announced, Mordaunt pledged her full support to Sunak.
Sunak will become the first person of color and the first Hindu to lead the UK. At 42, he is also the youngest person to take the office in more than 200 years.
Speaking after the announcement, Sunak said he was “humbled and honored” to have been elected leader. “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,” he said in a brief televised statement.
Sunak is set to replace Liz Truss, who will become the shortest-serving prime minister in UK history. Sunak will become prime minister on Tuesday once he is officially appointed by King Charles III and will be the first prime minister appointed by the new King following the death of Queen Elizabeth II in September.
CNN understood that the King was traveling to London from the private royal estate of Sandringham on Monday afternoon, as had always been his plan. He will have an audience with Truss on Tuesday morning before meeting with Sunak.
Sunak’s rise is a historic moment for Britain’s South Asian community, said Sanjay Chandarana, who heads a Hindu temple co-founded by Sunak’s grandparents in 1971.
“It’s a Barack Obama moment for us. A South Asian, Indian origin prime minister in the UK. Everyone here is so thrilled to hear that news,” Chandarana, the president of the Vedic Society Hindu Temple in Southampton, told CNN.
Sunak’s grandparents were born in India and his parents emigrated to the UK from East Africa in the 1960s. Sunak has spoken publicly about his British Indian heritage, telling the Business Standard in a 2015 interview that he ticks British Indian on the census.
“I am thoroughly British, this is my home and my country, but my religious and cultural heritage is Indian, my wife is Indian. I am open about being a Hindu,” Sunak told Business Standard.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday offered his “warmest congratulations” to Sunak, calling the incoming Prime Minister a bridge between both countries.
“Special Diwali wishes to the ‘living bridge’ of UK Indians, as we transform our historic ties into a modern partnership,” Modi said on Twitter.
Truss also congratulated Sunak following the announcement, saying on Twitter that he has her “full support.”
Sunak officially declared he’d be standing on Sunday after securing the support of 100 Conservative lawmakers, the necessary threshold set by party officials. By Monday he had secured the support of more than half of the party’s 357 MPs.
His campaign got a big boost when his former boss and rival, former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, withdrew from the race on Sunday night.
Monday marks the pinnacle of what has been an astonishingly quick rise to power for Sunak. He was first elected into Parliament in 2015 and became a junior minister in 2017. It was Johnson who gave Sunak his first major government role, appointing him as chief secretary to the Treasury in 2019 and promoting him to chancellor in 2020.
But as Britain’s third prime minister in seven weeks, Sunak is facing an enormous task.
His own party is divided and increasingly unpopular following four months of political turmoil and financial market chaos. At the same time, Britain is facing major economic crisis, with many economists believing it is already in recession.
He is also already under intense fire from opposition politicians.
General election calls
Sunak, like Truss, has not had to win a general election to become prime minister because the Conservatives are still the largest party in the House of Commons, therefore their leader automatically becomes prime minister.
The deputy leader of the opposition Labour party, Angela Rayner, said Sunak had “no mandate and no idea what working people need” and called for an early election.
“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,” she said.
It’s not unusual for a prime minister to come into office without an election – four of the last five British prime ministers first entered the role without a general election. But the fact that Sunak is the UK’s third prime minister since the last poll in 2019 and the second to come into power without a public vote adds to the pressure.
Sunak is under no obligation to call a vote. According to the law, the next general election must happen no later than in January 2025. With Labour way ahead in opinion polls, it is very unlikely he will take that step.
Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon also criticized the way Sunak came to power and renewed her call for Scottish independence.
“For Scotland, of course, he becomes another PM we did not and, without doubt would not vote for even if given the chance. To escape the damage of Westminster governments with no mandate here, and take our future into our own hands, Scotland needs independence,” Sturgeon said.
‘Profound economic challenge’
“The United Kingdom is a great country, but there is no doubt we face a profound economic challenge,” Sunak said during the statement on Monday afternoon.
“We now need stability and unity and I will make it my utmost priority to bring our party and our country together. Because that is the only way we will overcome the challenges we face and build a better, more prosperous future for our children and our grandchildren,” he added.
As a former chancellor, Sunak has experience of economic crisis-fighting. He guided the UK through the Covid-19 pandemic, putting in place a giant financial stimulus package.
While he has not given any details on his planned policies in the past few days, he positioned himself as the “sound finance” candidate when he ran against Truss in the previous Conservative leadership contest over the summer.
He was seen as the more moderate of the two candidates. While he agreed with Truss that taxes should be lower, he said any cuts could only happen once inflation was brought under control, which could take several years.
He criticized Truss’ economic plan which ultimately sparked panic in the financial markets and led to her demise. Prices of UK government bonds rose at the fastest pace ever, sending borrowing costs skyrocketing.
Investors appeared to welcome Sunak’s ascent to power. The pound ticked up against the US dollar on Monday, while the FTSE 250 index of UK companies gained ground.
CNN’s Rob Picheta, Luke McGee, Max Foster, Allegra Goodwin, Claudia Rebaza and Eve Brennan contributed reporting.