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Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has pledged to reverse the controversial national insurance hike if made Tory leader, as she insisted she can be “trusted to deliver”.
The senior Cabinet minister, who is widely expected to be a front-runner in the already crowded race, promised to “start cutting taxes from day one” to help with the cost of living.
With newly appointed Foreign Office minister Rehman Chishti also declaring his candidacy on Sunday evening, there are now 11 Tories in the running for the top job.
Other contenders include former health secretaries Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt, ex-chancellor Rishi Sunak, his successor Nadhim Zahawi, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and trade minister Penny Mordaunt.
Former minister Kemi Badenoch and senior backbencher Tom Tugendhat have also thrown their hats into the ring.
The PA news agency understands Home Secretary Priti Patel is yet to decide whether to launch her own bid, and will likely make a final decision on Monday.
Ms Truss’ pledge to scrap the national insurance rise, which came into effect in April, mirrors that of rival Mr Javid.
It marks a departure from her defence of the policy as a minister in Boris Johnson’s Cabinet, prior to his resignation, when she was bound by collective responsibility to support the move publicly.
The levy was introduced to raise funds for the NHS and social care, but has proved controversial at a time when households are feeling the squeeze from soaring food and energy bills.
Ms Truss argued “it isn’t right to be putting up taxes now”, and as leader she would take “immediate action” to assist with living costs.
She said she would “keep corporation tax competitive” – hinting that she wants to look again at Mr Sunak’s plans to hike the rate in April 2023, but did not go so far as to match some of her fellow contenders’ pledges to scrap the rise entirely.
The Foreign Secretary said she would “get the private sector growing faster than the public sector, with a long-term plan to bring down the size of the state and the tax burden”.
Writing in The Telegraph, she said: “Under my leadership, I would start cutting taxes from day one to take immediate action to help people deal with the cost of living.
“I would reverse the national insurance increase that came in during April, make sure we keep corporation tax competitive so we can attract business and investment into Britain, and put the Covid debt on a longer-term footing.”
Ms Truss said her plan would get the country back on track towards becoming a “high-growth and high-productivity powerhouse”.
“It is built on a clear and longstanding Conservative philosophy, including bold supply-side reform,” she added.
The Foreign Secretary said she had “led the way” in making the most of Britain’s “new-found freedoms” outside the EU, but insisted “we can go further, whether it is doing more to champion innovation or charting our own course on regulation”.
She said she would bring “clear and decisive leadership” to Downing Street, adding: “Colleagues know I mean what I say and only make promises I can keep. I can be trusted to deliver.”
Ms Truss said the Tories can win the next election, but acknowledged it will be “an uphill battle”.
Earlier, announcing her bid for the top job, Ms Mordaunt said the UK’s leadership “needs to become a little less about the leader and a lot more about the ship”.
Candidates populated the Sunday morning broadcast round, with Mr Hunt, Mr Javid, Mr Shapps and Mr Tugendhat all making appearances to promote their campaigns.
Mr Javid said his tax-cutting plans would cost around £39 billion per year, but this did not include slashing fuel duty further in the short-term.
Later, he revealed this latter reduction would be worth £2.5 billion.
He told The Sun: “A 10p cut to fuel duty is one of the quickest ways I’ll help with the cost of living but I’ll also deliver long-term tax cuts to ensure people have more money in their pocket.”
Ms Mordaunt said she would halve VAT on fuel, from 20% to 10%.
As the race for leader heats up, more Tories have declared their allegiances.
Former Cabinet minister Michael Gove – who was dramatically sacked by Mr Johnson earlier this week – pledged his support for Ms Badenoch on Sunday evening.
Writing in The Sun, he said: “Kemi doesn’t just win the argument, she delivers – on getting the Whitehall machine to embark on new policies and on levelling up Britain.
“Now she has the opportunity to use her first class brain to fix the big problems facing our country.”
He added: “As a Tory leader, she would be Sir Keir Starmer’s worst nightmare.”
Meanwhile, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told the newspaper Ms Truss is “a breath of fresh air”.
“What we can’t do is simply load our economy with lots of different taxes,” he said.
“I think there has to be a reset and there has to be a new path. Liz’s basic instinct on tax is right.”
A timetable for the contest is expected to be drawn up in the coming week, following the election to the executive of the backbench 1922 Committee.