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Teetotal PM headed for No. 10

Published:  24 October, 2022

It’s likely that alcohol will play little to no role in the celebrations in the Sunak household this evening, as the UK prepares for a new – and perhaps its first ever teetotal Prime Minster – in Number 10.

Rishi Sunak’s ascension to the post came just over an hour ago (2pm, 24 October), after Penny Mordaunt dropped out of the race as the last (wo)man standing against the former chancellor in the latest Conservative leadership contest.

As the now incumbent PM, Sunak is facing a sobering roster of challenges in the Conservative party and the wider British economy, with confidence in both at an all-time low.

It is also a critical time for the UK drinks trade, with the energy crisis, rapidly diminishing discretionary spend and last week’s U-turn on the alcohol duty freeze all hitting businesses in already depleted pockets.

Sunak brings a number of firsts to the role of PM. His appointment makes him Britain’s youngest Prime Minister in modern times and the country’s first non-white leader.

He is also a well-known abstainer from alcohol, making him possibly the first teetotal Prime Minister since David Lloyd George. 

In Hinduism, there is no clear prohibition on alcohol. However, many Hindus choose not to drink – something Sunak revealed publicly when he forewent the longstanding Whitehall tradition of drinking alcohol during the annual Budget. Instead, he chose to drink water out of a plastic cup – a move which was derided by sustainability campaigners, particularly as the then-chancellor sipped while speaking on ‘green growth’.

Scrutiny is already coming down hard on the new, unelected premier, both in his private life and for decisions made during his tenure as chancellor.

Back in 2020, he was the mastermind behind the Eat Out To Help Out scheme. This was a popular measure at the time. However, it has since garnered criticism for promoting mixed messaging amid furlough and social distancing measures, while also leading to one of the worst spikes in Covid across the UK since the beginning of the pandemic.

UK Hospitality is taking a hopeful line on the appointment. In a statement, chief executive Kate Nicholls made reference to working “very closely with the new Prime Minister in his previous role”, and is now looking ahead to the future.

“We look forward to working with him again to address the current strain on businesses and bolster consumer confidence. I would encourage him to extend business rates relief, reform the entire business rates system in the longer term and lower the current rate of VAT,” she said.