Rishi Sunak warns Tory rivals against unsustainable tax cuts

<span>Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters

Rishi Sunak has warned Tory leadership rivals against making unsustainable tax cut pledges just to win elections, as Liz Truss fights to make up ground in Thursday afternoon’s second round of votes in the race to become Britain’s next prime minister.

Having emerged as the frontrunner in Wednesday’s ballot of MPs with the support of a quarter of all Tory MPs, Sunak insisted he was the candidate who would be best placed to beat the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, at the next general election.

The former chancellor dodged questions about whether he had considered resigning before last week, when a mass exodus of ministers from government led to Boris Johnson’s demise, and would not say if he understood many people’s financial worries during the cost of living crisis given his own personal wealth.

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However, speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Sunak said he believed in hard work and aspiration, adding “that’s my story”.

He and Truss were viewed for months as the two top contenders to replace Johnson, but the campaign teams of both have been alarmed by the performance of Penny Mordaunt.

The trade minister came second in Wednesday’s vote and would far outstrip other candidates in a series of run-offs, according to a recent YouGov poll of about 900 Tory members.

With two Tory leadership hopefuls knocked out of the race for not securing enough votes, Sunak, Truss and Mordaunt, as well as the remaining three candidates, are scrambling to hoover up their backers. Jeremy Hunt, who got the supportof just 18 MPs, had endorsed Sunak, while Nadhim Zahawi, who got 25, has remained silent.

Pressed on whether he was too slick or rich to understand the pressures faced by many during the cost of living crisis, Sunak told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that he did not judge people by their bank accounts but by their character – and his actions as chancellor for more than two years were what mattered most.

In a swipe at candidates, including Truss, who have pledged faster tax cuts, Sunak said: “Of course I want to cut taxes and I will deliver tax cuts. But we will do that in a measured way. And the only way to really do that sustainably over time is to ensure that the Conservatives win the next general election. And I’m convinced that I’m the best person to beat Keir Starmer.”

He added: “I think our number one economic priority is to tackle inflation and not make it worse. Inflation is the enemy. It makes everybody poorer. And if we don’t act to tackle inflation now, it will cost families more in the long run, especially with mortgages.

“I will get taxes down in this parliament, but I’m going to do so responsibly. Because I don’t cut taxes to win elections, I win elections to cut taxes.”

Truss is due to launch her leadership bid on Thursday, and her supporters are urging those backing her rivals Suella Braverman and Kemi Badenoch to unite behind her to avoid the foreign secretary being left off the final ballot when members vote on a final two from next Wednesday.

Several more knockout rounds of voting by MPs are due to take place, with the result of the second ballot announced at 3pm on Thursday.

TV debates on Channel 4, ITV and Sky News will be held over the following few days, followed by further votes on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.