The chancellor, until recently seen as the most likely successor should Boris Johnson be ousted, has been tipped several times to resign on issues of principle or honour in recent months, but never did – until now.
Sunak feels almost ubiquitous in UK politics but he has only been an MP since 2015, a minister since 2018 and chancellor for a little over two years, taking over following the resignation of Sajid Javid, his fellow departee on Tuesday.
Always a fluent communicator, well connected and with obvious ambition, Sunak’s public profile soared during the Covid pandemic, thanks to his largesse with billions of pounds of public money via the furlough scheme, and an approach to press conferences that often appeared more empathic than Johnson.
Couple this with a highly organised – some argued overly flashy – approach to personal branding through the Treasury, and Sunak was viewed as the obvious heir apparent.
There was one problem, however: his wealth. Sunak had a significant fortune of his own thanks to a pre-politics job in the hedge fund world. But even this pales into comparison with the wealth of his wife, Akshata Murty.
Murty, who met Sunak when they were studying at Stanford business school, is the daughter of the billionaire founder of Infosys and owns a 0.93% stake, worth about £690m, in the tech firm.
In April it emerged that Murty claimed non-domicile status, allowing her to save millions of pounds in tax on dividends collected from Infosys, which totalled £11.6m in the last tax year.
In the wake of that revelation it emerged that Sunak had held a US green card, meaning he declared himself a “permanent US resident” for tax purposes for 19 months while he was chancellor and for six years as an MP.
All this cast significant doubt on Sunak’s likelihood of reaching the top job. His ambition doubtless remains undimmed. Quite soon, he might find out if it can be achieved.
This is the second time Javid has resigned from Boris Johnson’s government on a point of principle – although this time, the principle is doubtless mixed up with the hope the move could see him propelled into Downing Street instead.
The minister who had arguably the best political backstory among his political peers – brought up in Bristol to first-generation immigrant parents, with his father driving a bus before opening a shop – has been a minister for a decade, and has held six cabinet posts since 2014.
This ended for a period in 2020 when, having been chancellor for less than a year, he resigned after Johnson asked him to sack all of his advisers, part of a move by No 10 to gain more control over the Treasury.
Javid returned to the back benches but stayed largely loyal, and little more than a year later returned as health secretary after Matt Hancock’s resignation.
Javid is viewed as an able minister, and has talked with eloquence about the journey from his home background into first investment banking and then the Conservative party, noting that as a person both of colour and without family wealth he stood out even more in the latter than the former.
As a banker, Javid eschewed UK firms to work with US banks, believing he would be judged on his skills rather than a perceived ability to mingle with others from a privileged class.
His success in this could arguably be a barrier to advancement towards No 10. Javid was even more spectacularly successful in finance than Rishi Sunak, reportedly taking a 95% pay cut to become an MP in 2010. Javid also had non-domiciled tax status for six years before entering politics.