London: In a massive elevation, Indian-origin politician Rishi Sunak was appointed the UK’s new finance minister on Thursday by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in an extensive Cabinet reshuffle amid reports of serious differences within Downing Street.
The 39-year-old son-in-law of Infosys co-founder Narayana Murthy will join Priti Patel on the top government bench, after she held on to her post as Home Secretary.
Outside the Treasury office soon after his promotion, Sunak told reporters he was “delighted to be appointed” Chancellor and had “a lot to get on with”.
Pakistani-origin Sajid Javid resigned as Chancellor in a shock move in one of the biggest shake-ups since Johnson won a thumping majority in the December 2019 General Election.
According to sources close to the former Chancellor, he refused to give in to Johnson’s demand to get rid of all his special advisers at No. 11 Downing Street for the advisory teams of No. 10 and 11 Downing Street to work more closely aligned as one team.
It followed reports of growing tensions within Javid’s team and the Prime Minister’s Chief Special Adviser Dominic Cummings.
Javid is replaced by Sunak, who was until now Javid’s junior as the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and seen as a rising star within the Cabinet.
Sunak is set to move into No. 11 Downing Street, next door to the Prime Minister’s office as he takes charge of the second most important government position as the finance minister.
He will have to hit the ground running as the UK Budget is due to be tabled next month. The Prime Minister and Chancellor are traditionally seen a double act in British politics, working close together and also living as neighbours on Downing Street.
“The Queen has been graciously pleased to approve the appointment of Rt Hon Rishi Sunak as Chancellor of the Exchequer,” Downing Street said in the official announcement on the elevation of the three-time MP.
The MP for Richmond in Yorkshire, married to Murthy’s daughter Akshata, first entered the UK Parliament in 2015 and has fast risen up the Conservative Party ranks as a staunch Brexiteer who had back Johnson’s strategy to leave the European Union (EU).
Sunak campaigned for Leave in the EU referendum, and his constituency voted 55% Leave.
He voted for former prime minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal on all three occasions, and was an early supporter of Johnson.
Sunak is seen as a rising star in the Conservative Party, with endorsements from people including former Conservative leader Lord Hague of Richmond, who has described him as an “exceptional individual”.
Sunak’s father was a National Health Service (NHS) general practitioner (GP), and his mother was a pharmacist. They emigrated from Punjab to the UK with Sunak’s grandparents.
He was born in 1980 in Southampton in Hampshire, and studied at the exclusive private school Winchester College.
Sunak then went on to Oxford University to read Philosophy, Politics and Economics, a tried and trusted route for aspiring Westminster politicians, the BBC reported.
He also studied for an MBA at Stanford University.
“From working in my mum’s tiny chemist shop to my experience building large businesses, I have seen how we should support free enterprise and innovation to ensure Britain has a stronger future,” Sunak said during the Brexit referendum.
He co-founded a 1-billion pound global investment firm and specialised in investing in small British businesses before his entry into politics.
He strongly believes that small businesses in the UK would flourish as a result of Brexit as the “vast majority of British businesses (94 per cent) don’t have anything to do with the EU; but they are still subject to all EU law .
He became a housing minister in 2018, before being promoted to Chief Secretary to the Treasury under Johnson last July. A clear Johnson favourite, he was the frontline minister chosen to stand in for the Prime Minister during the BBC’s seven-way debate ahead of December’s General Election.
On his website, he speaks of his parents’ great sacrifice so he could attend good schools.
“I was lucky to study at Winchester College, Oxford University and Stanford University. That experience changed my life and as a result I am passionate about ensuring everybody has access to a great education, he says.
“I have been lucky to live, study and work internationally. I met my wife, Akshata, in California where we lived for a number of years before returning home. We have two daughters, who keep us busy and entertained,” he notes, listing his pastimes as keeping fit, cricket, football and movies.
In what was already referred to as the most “desi Cabinet in UK history”, Indian-origin MP, Alok Sharma, was also promoted to the post of Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. The 52-year-old Agra-born Sharma, MP for Reading West, was International Development Secretary previously, a department set to be revamped going forward.
Goan-origin Suella Braverman, 39, another Indian-origin MP, got a promotion in the Cabinet reshuffle. She was appointed as the Attorney General.