Defence secretary Ben Wallace endorses Liz Truss for next PM with swipe at Rishi Sunak - OLD

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 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Liz Truss’s bid for No 10 has recieved a major endorsement from defence secretary Ben Wallace, who also took a swipe at her rival Rishi Sunak for resigning from the government.

Mr Wallace, who is popular among Tory members and has regularly topped surveys ranking members of the cabinet, claimed the foreign secretary is the “only candidate” with the experienced required.

Writing in The Times, he said: “I have sat with her in cabinet, bilateral meetings and international summits. She stands her ground. Above all, she is straight and means what she says”.

The cabinet minister, who has remained loyal to the outgoing prime minister, said that while Mr Sunak is a “capable minister”,Mr Johnson’s successor needed from “day one” to know their way around the international community “as well as the Treasury”.

Hitting out at Mr Sunak’s decision to quit the cabinet – a move that precipated mass resignations – Mr Wallace questioned what would have happened if the markets had crashed, according to The Sun.

“I don’t have the luxury as defence secretary of just walking out the door – I have roles in keeping this country safe,” he told the paper.

“And the guardian of the markets, you know, the guardian of our economy, is the chancellor.”

He also insisted departing ministers could have used the “mechanism” of the Conservatives’ 1922 committee to force the prime minister’s resignation through a vote of confidence.

“I just don’t think cabinet ministers walking out at a time of a crisis is the right course of aciton,” he told Sky News on Friday. “There are other mechanisms to do what they wanted.

“He [Mr Sunak] made his choices, he reconciles himself with that. I’m there to the end until I’m replaced by a defence secretary. I have that obligation not just to my leader, but the men and women under the force’s command”.

Liz Truss appears at first hustings event among Tory grassroots (PA Wire)
Liz Truss appears at first hustings event among Tory grassroots (PA Wire)

He added: “What if the markets had crashed? What if the home secretary had done that and there was a terrorist attack. The public would never forgive us for that.”

His endorsement came after the candidates were quizzed separately on a vast array of policy areas – as well as their predictions for the Women’s Euro 2022 final – as they sought to woo northern voters in the race for the top job.

The event, hosted by LBC’s Nick Ferrari, was the first of 12 sessions for the party faithful across the country to question the final two contenders, before voting for the next Tory leader closes on September 2.

Mr Sunak said he was “having the time of my life” campaigning for the top job. He outlined his vision to tackle NHS waiting lists, “grip” inflation, and “restore trust, rebuild the economy, reunite our country”.

The former chancellor was also forced to defend himself against accusations he “stabbed Boris Johnson in the back”, telling grassroots Conservatives he had resigned from the cabinet due to differences on economic policy with the prime minister.

“There is no way that the prime minister and chancellor cannot be joined at the hip with regard to economic policy, particularly at a time when the economy faces real challenges,” he said. “So I was left with no choice.”

Rishi Sunak was forced to defend himself against accusations he ‘stabbed Boris Johnson in the back’ (PA Wire)
Rishi Sunak was forced to defend himself against accusations he ‘stabbed Boris Johnson in the back’ (PA Wire)

He insisted he was “well placed to bring the party back together, because I’ve already drawn support from across the party”.

Mr Sunak acknowledged he was trailing Ms Truss in the polls, but vowed to fight for every vote, saying: “We are going to have to appeal to swing voters in every part of our country.

“And I believe with all my heart that I am the person, I am the candidate, that gives our party the best opportunity to secure that victory.”

Recent YouGov polling has suggested Mr Sunak has a significant edge over his rival among swing voters – 2019 Tory voters who are deserting the party, even as both candidates are “considerably unpopular” with the public as a whole.

He later denied that his pledge to cut VAT on energy bills was a U-turn, saying “it’s reasonable that there is more than we can do”.

Additional reporting by PA

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