11 Things You Might Have Forgotten About New PM Rishi Sunak

Sunak has made plenty of headlines during his time in the public eye.
Rishi Sunak has just become the leader of the Tory Party
Rishi Sunak has just become the leader of the Tory Party
Victoria Jones - PA Images via Getty Images

Rishi Sunak has just become the new leader of the Conservative Party, and so will become the next prime minister.

He narrowly missed out on the top job in the summer to Liz Truss but her sudden resignation amid the economic chaos, and a flurry of nominations from Tory MPs, means he is now No.10′s newest resident.

But just how much do we know about him?

Here are 11 details from his time in the spotlight you might have missed.

1. It began with Furlough

Sunak really broke out of the Westminster bubble for the first time in 2020, when – just over a month into his time as chancellor – he announced the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

This was known as the furlough scheme, and meant workers who couldn’t work due to the pandemic were awarded 80% of their normal pay (this was capped at £2,500 a month).

Notably, he had only been an MP for five years when he got the senior role. He had served as the chief secretary to the Treasury under chancellor Sajid Javid since 2019 before getting the promotion when his boss quit.

2. The summer of ‘Eat Out To Help Out’

Then Sunak unveiled the 50% discount for anyone eating in restaurants who were part of the Eat Out To Help Out programme between August 3 and 31, in 2020, after the first lockdown.

It was meant to encourage people back into a more normal way of life, while providing the economy with a boost. There were no limits on the number of times the deal could be used, and all diners could take advantage.

It was criticised by the Institute of Fiscal Students for being a “giveaway” to those already well-off enough to eat out, and it cost the government £500 million to fund the scheme.

There were fears it encouraged more Covid transmissions, too, especially when there was such an uptick in cases that autumn another lockdown was announced in November.

Sunak championed the Eat Out to Help Out scheme
Sunak championed the Eat Out to Help Out scheme
Jeff J Mitchell - PA Images via Getty Images

3. Partygate problems

Sunak was also pulled into the partygate drama earlier this year, after he was found to have attended Boris Johnson’s birthday party in June 2020 against Covid social distancing rules in place at the time.

He was fined £50 and later apologised in April 2022. He said he was “extremely and sincerely sorry” for the “hurt and the anger” he had caused, and said he had “always acted in good faith” when discussing the issue in parliament.

As the privilege committee is still investigating whether Johnson misled the House over his claims that there were no lockdown-breaching parties, there is speculation (especially from Johnson loyalist Nadine Dorries) that the committee could turn to Sunak, too.

4. ‘Total coke addict’

Last March, Sunak was ridiculed by the internet by proudly telling two schoolboys: “I’m a coke addict. A total coke addict.

A wave of panic swept across his face when he realised what he had just said to two children, while on camera.

“Coca-Cola addict! For the record, just to be totally clear, I am a Coca-Cola addict. I have seven fillings to show for it.

“So now...so yeah, exactly, I could get in trouble. So I genuinely do have seven fillings because I got through a lot of the stuff when I was young, so people should not...don’t, don’t, don’t do that.”

5. Non-dom saga

Sunak’s wife was found to be enjoying a non-dom tax status back in April.

This meant she could avoid UK tax on her substantial foreign income, which she derives from her father’s Indian firm, Infosys.

After national outcry, Akshata Murty said she would start to now pay UK tax on all of her global wealth, because she did not want the issue to be a “distraction” for Sunak.

Murty and Sunak’s combined wealth is said to be £730 million, according to The Times. This, combined with a viral video from 2001 where a young Sunak said he did not have any “working class friends” and clips where Sunak does not appear to know how to fill up a car, certainly raised eyebrows.

6. US Green Card reveal

Around the same time, it was revealed Sunak had held onto his US green card 18 months into his job in No.11. Green cards require holders to declare the US as their permanent residence.

However, a spokesperson for Sunak said: “All laws and rules have been followed and full taxes have been paid where required in the duration he held his green card.”

7. ‘At least I didn’t slap anybody’

Then chancellor Sunak compared himself to Hollywood actor Will Smith in March this year after a flurry of public criticism towards his wife’s non-dom status (and Infosys’ links to Russia).

In an interview with BBC Newscast, he said he found the attacks on Akshata Murty “very upsetting”.

“I feel, on reflection, both Will Smith and me having our wives attacked – at least I didn’t get up and slap anybody, which is good.”

8. Crypto bro?

Sunak was accused of being “out of touch” in April, towards the start of the cost of living crisis, when he unveiled his plans to promote a non-fungible token (NFT) issued by Royal Mint.

“It’s my ambition to make the UK a global hub for cyrpto-asset technology,” he said.

However, the currency is controversial with critics claiming they are fundamentally valueless, unregulated, and increase the risk of fraud and scams.

Given the huge number of computers needed to continuously run for a blockchain to function, they argue NFTs are also bad for the environment.

Sunak then walked away from his proposal when there was a major crash in cryptocurrencies later in the year.

9. Role in Johnson’s downfall

Many Johnson loyalists did not back Sunak in either of the leadership races because he was seen as being the main catalyst in the former PM’s departure from office.

Sunak wrote on Twitter: “I recognise this may be my last ministerial job, but I believe these standards are worth fighting for and that is why I am resigning.”

Losing two such senior ministers threw Johnson’s premiership into doubt, triggering dozens of other ministers to follow suit.

The beleaguered PM then resigned that week.

10. Taking money away from ‘deprived urban areas’

Sunak went viral in August when a particular video from the previous month was leaked to the New Statesman.

In the clip, Sunak can be heard boasting about taking money away from “deprived urban areas” and giving it to other parts of the country while speaking to Tory members in Tunbridge Wells on the leadership campaign trail.

“I managed to start changing the funding formulas to make sure areas like this are getting the funding they deserved.

“We inherited a bunch of formulas from Labour that shoved all the funding into deprived urban areas and that needed to be undone. I started the work of undoing that.”

Conservative environment minister Lord Goldsmith called it “one of the weirdest – and dumbest – things I’ve ever heard from a politician”.

11. Claim that scientists were too ‘empowered’ during Covid

Sunak also claimed in August, during his leadership campaign, that he was not “allowed to talk about the trade-off” of lockdowns during the early phases of the pandemic, alleging the government gave too much power to scientists.

He also claimed the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) edited its minutes to hide dissenting opinions.

Sunak told the Spectator magazine: “We shouldn’t have empowered the scientists in the way we did.

“And you have to acknowledge trade-offs from the beginning. If we’d done all of that, we could be in a very different place. We’d probably have made different decisions on things like schools.”

He said it was “wrong to scare people” during the pandemic with images such as the posters of patients on ventilators.

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