Rishi Sunak And Liz Truss Go To War With One Another As Tory Leadership Race Turns Ugly

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Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss taking part in the BBC Tory leadership debate (Photo: Jacob King via PA Wire/PA Images)
Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss taking part in the BBC Tory leadership debate (Photo: Jacob King via PA Wire/PA Images)

Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss taking part in the BBC Tory leadership debate  (Photo: Jacob King via PA Wire/PA Images)

Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss went to war with one another as the fight to be the next prime minister became even more toxic.

Despite warning from party bosses about the damage being done to the Conservatives’ reputation by the increasingly-bitter leadership race, the pair refused to pull their punches in their first head-to-head TV debate.

At one point, Sunak asked Truss why she wanted to “cause misery to ordinary people” by running the risk of higher inflation and interest rates by borrowing tens of billions of pounds to fund immediate tax cuts.

But the foreign secretary said the former chancellor’s own economic plans would send the UK into a recession and accused him of “scaremongering” and being engaged in “Project Fear”.

Sunak hit back: “I remember the referendum campaign and there was only one of us on the side of Remain and Project Fear and that was you.”

Sunak, whose resignation from the cabinet helped to trigger Boris Johnson’s removal from office, went on the attack within minutes of the start of the debate as he attempted to claw back Truss’s 24-point poll lead among Tory members.

Defending his decision to increase national insurance to raise £12bn for the NHS - a move Truss says she would reverse - he said: “Well look, we all took a decision to protect the economy and support the NHS through Covid, and of course we all knew there was a bill that we needed to pay for that, so the question is, should we pay that bill ourselves or do we put it on the country’s credit card and pass the tab to our children and grandchildren to take care of.

“Now, I don’t think that’s right, I don’t think it’s responsible and it’s certainly not Conservative and that’s what I wouldn’t do as prime minister.”

In response, Truss said: “Under my plans, we would start paying back the debt in three years time, so I’m not putting it on the never never.”

But Sunak interrupted, saying “that’s simply not right”.

He added: “You promised almost £40 billion of unfunded tax cuts…that is the country’s credit card.”

Truss then hit back: “Rishi that is not true. Under my plans, we would start paying down the debts in three years time, Covid was a one in 100 years event, no other country is putting up taxes at this moment, the OECD has described Rishi’s policies as contractionary.”

The pair also clashed over their approaches to China, with each accusing the other of getting too close to the communist regime.

Sunak said: “Liz has been on a journey – there was a time when Liz was talking about having a golden era of relationships with China and the mission there was talking about having deeper collaboration with things like food security and technology.”

But the foreign secretary said: “As recently as a month ago you were pushing for closer trade relationships with China.

“This is not something you’ve advocated in Government.

“I’m delighted that you’ve come round to my way of thinking, but it’s been driven by the Foreign Office, the toughest stance we’ve taken on China; whether it’s taking the alternative to the Chinese Belt and Road with our G7 colleagues, whether it’s being clear that Taiwan should be able to defend itself in the face of Chinese aggression.

“We have led on that, and frankly, what we’ve heard from the Treasury is a desire for closer economic relations with China.”

This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.

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