Following another chaotic week in British politics, Rishi Sunak has won the Conservative leadership election and will now become the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. But here in Kyiv, away from party politics and bitter infighting, people have one question – will Sunak continue the UK’s so-far unwavering support of Ukraine?
After the resignation of Boris Johnson, and the tumultuous 44-day-reign of failed PM Liz Truss, a greatly divided Conservative Party once again began the search for a new leader, with would-be candidates needing at least 100 nominations from fellow Tory MPs to get on the ballot.
The ballot, however, wasn’t needed after all. With Boris Johnson announcing on Sunday evening that he was dropping out of the race, Sunak was left facing an open goal, with no other candidates having reached the required number of nominations.
Sunak, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, stood in the previous leadership race sparked by Johnson’s resignation, but lost to Truss after the vote was given to the party’s membership of between 150,000-200,000 people. This time, however, the election process was altered, with members denied a vote – leaving many, including some MPs, already taking to social media to voice their objections.
Support and Outrage
Today’s announcement of Sunak’s ‘behind doors coronation’ has been greeted with mixed feelings. Whilst many Tory members vented their frustrations on Twitter, others changed their stance in the interests of the party and the nation.
“In these difficult times for our country, we must unite by putting public service first and work together,” former Home Secretary Priti Patel, a staunch Boris supporter, tweeted. “We care about our country, and with the enormous challenges upon us we must put political differences aside to give Rishi Sunak the best chance of succeeding.”
Prominent MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, who had spent the past week heavily endorsing Boris Johnson, tweeted: “Now is the time for party unity, and I congratulate Rishi Sunak on his victory and will support his leadership.”
Opposition leader Keir Starmer of the Labour Party, however, said that the UK needed a general election, and labelled recent events as a “revolving door of chaos”.
“The Conservative Party has shown it no longer has a mandate to govern,” he said in a statement issued early this evening. “After 12 years of Tory failure, the British people deserve so much better than this revolving door of chaos… The Tories cannot respond to their latest shambles by yet again simply clicking their fingers and shuffling the people at the top without the consent of the British people.”
“They do not have a mandate to put the country through yet another experiment… We need a general election – now.”
Another General Election?
With no mandate to govern given to him by the people of Britain, indeed, a general election might not be off the cards and is certainly not unprecedented.
When being elected by party members to replace David Cameron, Theresa May called a General Election in June 2017, following criticism that she had no official mandate from the electorate. Her predecessor, Boris Johnson, also called a snap election, after coming to power under the same circumstances.
Yet whereas Johnson romped home to a unanimous victory in the General Election of 2019, giving the Conservative government the largest majority in decades, his successor’s gamble didn’t pay off, with May’s resulting in Conservative MPs losing seats across the country. Still, however, the Conservatives did indeed win overall under May, and the PM who would inevitably resign over her bungling of Brexit negotiations could at least temporarily say that she governed by the will of the people.
British politics is essentially dominated by a two-party system – Conservatives vs the socialist Labour Party. In the last leadership race, Conservative Party members made it clear that they didn’t want Rishi Sunak to lead the party nor country – largely due to his involvement in ousting Boris Johnson. Labour supporters, naturally, don’t want him as their PM either.
As it stands, technically Sunak doesn’t have the luxury of a mandate. But will he gamble or stick? Only time, and the level of discontent amongst British voters and his own MPs over his elevation, will tell.
Like his former boss, Sunak does not come free from scandal. Earlier this year, the politician came under scrutiny and faced growing criticism over his wife’s business dealings, with dividends from a family company found to have partly been generated from the company’s refusal to stop trading in Russia, despite the Conservative government heavily sanctioning Russian companies and organisations at the time.
Then there is “Partygate”, a scandal amplified and perhaps somewhat exaggerated by the British press, in some instances due to the political agendas of journalists, yet none the less an important issue to many Brits.
While the focus on alleged Covid rule breaking was placed firmly on then Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Sunak also received a fixed-penalty notice for attending a gathering in 10 Downing Street on June 19, 2020, that did not adhere to social distancing laws.
An inquiry held by the Parliamentary Privileges Committee is still ongoing, with some concerned that the inevitable findings could be weaponised against Sunak.
Yesterday, Oct. 23, former Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries tweeted: “If Rishi Sunak were to win, the focus of the privileges committee, I am absolutely certain, would move straight onto Rishi Sunak and what he knew – in order to embolden Labour’s call for a general election. With Rishi we will be in general election territory within weeks.”
Does Sunak support Ukraine?
Many will find reassurance in the fact that Sunak has frequently demonstrated his support for Ukraine in defending itself against Russia’s brutal ongoing invasion.
During his tenure as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sunak signed-off on a wave of humanitarian aid packages to the embattled nation, and in August of this year called for President Putin to be barred from the G20.
Speaking to the Kyiv Post, David Bannerman, a Strategic consultant and writer, and former Conservative Member of the European Parliament, said:
“There were indications through a Ukrainian Government social media account that they wanted Boris back – as I did I.”
“However, though Rishi Sunak’s expertise is more in finance than international relations, I am confident he and his government will continue to support the Ukrainian people in their hour of need,” he added.
Meanwhile, Paul Bristow, a Conservative Member of Parliament who gave numerous televised interviews staunchly supporting Boris Johnson’s bid to return, told Kyiv Post that despite a change in leadership, support for Ukraine remains a ‘top priority’.
“We will have a new Prime Minister with lots in his in-tray,” said Bristow. “Despite a focus on domestic issues, it’s crucial that the war in Ukraine and our support for their armed forces remains a top priority.
“The new Prime Minister has my full support and I fully expect him to quickly assure everyone about the UK’s continued solidarity with the Ukrainian people.”
And then we have Sunak’s own words to hold him to. Writing exclusively in the Kyiv Post on Ukraine’s Independence Day, the now PM addressed all Ukrainians, saying:
“Your steadfast courage in standing up to aggression has given hope to peaceful and freedom loving people around the world, and sends a clear message to despots that no matter how the odds may be stacked in their favour, they will never prevail.
“Whatever the changes here in our country, we Brits will always remain your strongest ally.
“We will keep supporting your brave fighters to protect your citizens, we will keep providing humanitarian aid to ensure you have access to medication and food, and we will keep sheltering your loved ones until they can return home safely and sleep soundly.”
Read Sunak’s letter in full here.
You can also highlight the text and press Ctrl + Enter