Rishi Sunak quits – so what’s next for the former PM after humiliating defeat?

Rishi Sunak is stepping down as the leader of his party after defeat at the polls (Picture: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire)

Rishi Sunak has announced he will step down as the leader of the Conservatives after a historic battering by Labour in the General Election.

There was very little good news for the Tories through the night, with the party set to win the lowest total number of seats in its 200-year history.

This morning’s announcement from the UK’s first British-Asian prime minister will kick-start a contest to decide who will serve as the leader of the opposition to Keir Starmer’s government.

In a speech outside No 10, he said he would step down as Tory leader once formal arrangements for a successor have taken place.

Among the favourites to take over are Kemi Badenoch, who served as Sunak’s business secretary, and former security minister Tom Tugendhat. Another early frontrunner, Leader of the House of Commons Penny Mordaunt, lost her seat at the General Election.

Sunak took over as leader of the party and the country in October 2022, in the aftermath of Liz Truss’s historically short spell in Number 10.

It capped an extraordinarily fast rise through the political ranks, following his initial election in 2015 – the same year as Starmer.

After around six months serving in relative obscurity as the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, he was picked to become Boris Johnson’s chancellor in February 2020.

Soon afterwards, the Covid pandemic and lockdown dramatically upended life in the UK.

Rishi Sunak during his time as chancellor under Boris Johnson (Credits: PA)

Sunak became the most popular politician in the country for a period, thanks to his large package of support including the extensive government furlough scheme.

But after taking over as prime minister, his approval ratings began to slip considerably.

His announcement of a General Election on the rain-spattered road outside Number 10 was considered an attempt at cutting his losses, with little prospect of a Conservative victory.

Rishi’s soaking outside No 10 on May 22 may turn out to be a defining image of his premiership (Picture: Peter Nicholls/Getty Images)

A series of self-inflicted gaffes over the election campaign – culminating in the disastrous decision to leave a D-Day commemoration ceremony early – did not help matters, even leading to suggestions he could resign in advance of polling day.

Instead, he takes a place in the history books as the man who led the Conservatives to their biggest General Election loss since the party’s founding 200 years ago.

What will Rishi Sunak do next?

Sunak has previously insisted he will serve a full term as MP for Richmond and Northallerton if he’s re-elected, even if his party lost.

In his victory speech, which sounded more like a eulogy at times, he said he, his wife, and his daughters looked forward to staying in the area.

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However, there has been speculation that he could move his family to their $7.2 million home in Santa Monica, California.

His Tory predecessors all had very different approaches to life after their term as prime minister.

David Cameron resigned from parliament two months after stepping down as leader before returning to frontline politics when Sunak gave him a peerage and appointed him Foreign Secretary.

Theresa May remained in the Commons for five years after leaving Downing Street in 2019, but chose not to stand in Thursday’s General Election and has been made a member of the House of Lords.

Boris Johnson also stuck around, but resigned as an MP when the Privileges Committee concluded he had lied to the House over Partygate.

And Liz Truss lost her South West Norfolk seat earlier this morning in one of the most dramatic moments of the 2024 election.

We’ll have to wait and find out who Sunak ends up emulating.

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