King Charles Installs New U.K. PM Keir Starmer After Losing Conservative Apologizes

The British people delivered Prime Minister Rishi Sunak an unambiguous and devastating message in Thursday’s general election, ending 14 years of Conservative rule with the party’s worst electoral result in its 200-year history. With the scale of his crushing defeat to Labour leader Keir Starmer clear, Sunak began his departure Friday with an apology. “I

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The British people delivered Prime Minister Rishi Sunak an unambiguous and devastating message in Thursday’s general election, ending 14 years of Conservative rule with the party’s worst electoral result in its 200-year history. With the scale of his crushing defeat to Labour leader Keir Starmer clear, Sunak began his departure Friday with an apology.

“I will shortly be seeing his majesty the king to offer my resignation as prime minister,” Sunak said outside 10 Downing Street Friday before heading to Buckingham Palace for a private meeting with King Charles III. “To the country, I would like to say first and foremost: I am sorry,” he continued. “I have given this job my all, but you have sent a clear signal that the government of the United Kingdom must change, and yours is the only judgment that matters. I have heard your anger, your disappointment, and I take responsibility for this loss.”

With most districts counted, Labour will sweep to power with at least 412 seats in the 650-seat House of Commons. But this being Britain, there’s the inevitable rigmarole of a royal ceremony to go through before the country officially has its new prime minister.

The king technically has the final say on who becomes the prime minister of the U.K. government—officially “His Majesty’s Government”—though his seal approval is more or less entirely ceremonial in Britain’s constitutional monarchy system. The journeys to the palace made by the outgoing and incoming prime minister are nevertheless closely covered by the British media, with TV helicopters following their cars making their way to the palace gates for the highly symbolic handover of power.

Friday marked the first time Charles will confirm a new prime minister following a general election. Starmer will nevertheless be Charles’ third prime minister since the king’s reign began less than two years ago. His first was Liz Truss—the catastrophically inept Tory leader who lasted less than two months in office after triggering an economic crisis. Truss, who was appointed prime minister by Queen Elizabeth II two days before the queen’s death, lost her parliamentary seat in Thursday’s election—the first former prime minister to do so in almost 90 years.

But today the humiliation is Sunak’s. Shortly after he left the palace, Starmer entered for his own audience with Charles in a ceremony known as “kissing hands.” It’s doubtful that any hands were actually kissed during the closed-door audience, but a picture showed the monarch and the new prime minister side by side, confirming Starmer’s status. The newly minted Prime Minister Starmer then traveled to Downing Street.

A man holds an L sign behind Rishi Sunak

This was the moment Britain’s prime minister, Rishi Sunak, first acknowledged losing, as he won his own seat in parliament. Independent candidate Niko Omilana had the “L” sign prepared for the event.

Temilade Adelaja

After greeting crowds of flag-waving supporters outside No. 10, Starmer made his first prime ministerial speech in front of the famous black door of his new home. “I have just returned from Buckingham Palace, where I accepted an invitation from his majesty the king to form the next government of this great nation,” he said.

Starmer used his speech to praise Sunak on his “achievement as the first British Asian prime minister” before saying that a “weariness” had developed in the heart of the nation. “This wound, this lack of trust can only be healed by actions, not words,” Starmer said. He later added: “I invite you all to join this government of service in the mission of national renewal,” Starmer said. “Our work is urgent, and we begin it today.”

As well as his prime ministerial car, Starmer will also be getting the keys to the apartment that’s been Sunak’s home for the last two years. Vans were reported outside No. 10 early Friday which will cart the Conservative’s belongings away to allow his Labour successor to move in quickly, a brutally swift process which characterizes the breakneck speed with which Britain replaces its rulers.

British Prime Minister Keir Starmer reacts, at Number 1src Downing Street, following the results of the election.

BRITAIN-ELECTION/

British Prime Minister Keir Starmer reacts, at Number 10 Downing Street, following the results of the election.

Kevin Coombs/Reuters

The Tories can now begin some seriously painful soul-searching about how they got here. While Labour have won a massive landslide almost as big as Tony Blair’s huge victory in 1997, the results show a British public more passionate about getting rid of the Conservatives rather than installing Labour, specifically. The Tories suffered a disastrous 20-point drop in support since the last election in 2019—with Labour enjoying only a minor bump in support.

Instead, Labour’s victory appears to have been fueled by a rise in support for Nigel Farage’s hard-right, MAGA-like Reform party which has eaten into the Conservative’s vote share across the U.K. (Donald Trump publicly congratulated Farage, “a man who truly loves his Country” for winning a parliamentary seat for the first time, ending a run of seven failed attempts). A collapse in support for the scandal-ridden Scottish National Party (SNP) in Scotland also helped, as did a surge in backing for the centrist Liberal Democrats, who look set to receive their highest number of seats in over a century.

Labour were also boosted by Sunak running a spectacularly awful campaign. He started poorly, getting soaked as he announced the election in the pouring rain inexplicably without an umbrella, and continued to go downhill from there. Sunak was forced to apologize last month after ditching D-Day commemoration events early in order to film a TV interview, and even found himself dealing with a fresh scandal around election betting just days out from the national vote.

Sunak also confirmed in his speech Friday he’ll also resign as the leader of the Conservatives. “Not immediately,” he said. “But once the formal arrangements for selecting my successor are in place.” Sunak’s wife Akshata Murty—the daughter of a man who co-founded a tech firm now worth $81 billion—stood dutifully behind her husband as he delivered the brief eulogy on his premiership. She was holding an umbrella, just in case.

Outgoing British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak holds hands with his wife Akshata Murty, as they leave Number 1src Downing Street

The brutally quick end to power as a British prime minister was obvious Friday as Rishi Sunak and his wife Akshata Murty left his official residence hand in hand.

Toby Melville/Reuters

The Tory battering also saw a record eight cabinet ministers losing their seats—including Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt and Grant Shapps, the defense secretary. Jeremy Hunt, the finance minister, managed to retain his seat by fewer than 900 votes. But Hunt and his family—and their dog—began the Downing Street departures on Friday morning, leaving No. 11 for the last time on another rainy morning in London.

“We can look forward again, walk into the morning,” Starmer said in a speech when his historic victory was confirmed in the early hours. “The sunlight of hope—pale at first—but getting stronger through the day, shining once again on a country with the opportunity, after 14 years, to get its future back.”

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