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Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss trashed each other’s economic plans as the Tory leadership TV showdown descended into another blue-on-blue attack on Monday night.
Former chancellor Mr Sunak went head-to-head with Foreign Secretary Truss for the first time on the BBC .
Mr Sunak claimed there was “nothing Conservative” about Ms Truss’s approach and it would give the party “absolutely no chance” of winning the next election.
Ms Truss in turn suggested her rival would lead the country into a recession and that he was scaremongering and promoting “Project Fear” by rubbishing her proposed tax cuts.
Ms Truss said she would put an economic growth plan in place “immediately” if she becomes prime minister, along with imposing a temporary moratorium on the green energy levy.
The increase in national insurance would also be reversed, Ms Truss said.
Mr Sunak said he would like to make sure that his government “always” has policies in place to support through the cost-of-living crisis.
The pair clashed after a weekend that saw allies of the two Tory leadership hopefuls trade increasingly personal attacks.
Ms Truss said her plans would see the government start paying down the debt in three years’ time, with Mr Sunak countering: “You’ve promised over £40 billion of unfunded tax cuts – £40 billion more borrowing.
“That is the country’s credit card and it’s our children and grandchildren, everyone here’s kids will pick up the tab for that.
“There’s nothing Conservative about it.”
Ms Truss later said: “No other country is putting up taxes at this moment, the OECD has described Rishi’s policies as contractionary.
“What does contractionary mean? It means it will lead to a recession. We know what happens when there’s a recession.
“I grew up in Paisley and Leeds in the 1980s and 1990s.
“I know what it’s like when people have to struggle when you have high unemployment and people don’t have work to go to. We cannot allow that to happen.”
Mr Sunak often spoke over Ms Truss and warned inflation was a problem in the 1980s and it is a “problem we have now”, adding: “We need to get a grip on inflation.
“If we don’t do that now, it’s going to cost all of you and everybody watching at home far more in the long run.”
The two Tory leadership hopefuls were asked about Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries criticising Mr Sunak’s expensive wardrobe, while praising Ms Truss’ more modest clothes.
The former chancellor said: “I think in the Conservative Party, we judge people by their character and their actions.
“I’m proud of my record as chancellor in helping some of the most vulnerable people over the last couple of years. And I wasn’t born this way.
“My family emigrated here 60 years ago, I talked about my mom. She ran the local chemist in Southampton. That’s why I grew up working in the shop, delivering medicines. I worked as a waiter at the Indian restaurant, down the road.
“And I’m standing here because of the hard work, the sacrifice and love of my parents and the opportunities they provided to me, and that’s why I want to be prime minister because I want to ensure that everyone, your children and grandchildren have the very same opportunities that I had.”
Both clashed over their stance on China.
When asked about his views, Mr 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 what we do need to do is acknowledge that China is a threat to our national security, it’s a threat to our economic security, and that’s why as chancellor I was pleased that we could put forward something called the National Security Investment Bill.”
When asked about the influence of Chinese-owned social media app TikTok, Ms Truss said the UK must take a “tougher stance” on technology companies based in authoritarian countries.
The studio audience was made up entirely of people who voted Conservative at the last general election.
With postal ballots set to arrive on Tory members’ doorsteps by August 5, Mr Sunak was under pressure to use the BBC debate and another hosted by TalkTV and the Sun on Tuesday to make an early breakthrough.
The debate in Stoke came just hours after a Conservative peer claimed Boris Johnson “does not want to resign” and “wished that he could carry on” as Prime Minister.
Lord Cruddas of Shoreditch, a former Conservative Party treasurer, said the comments were made to him by the PM over lunch at Chequers on Friday.
Downing Street responded by insisting Mr Johnson will leave the post when a new Tory leader is chosen in September.
Both candidates ruled out a job for the PM in their cabinet, with Ms Truss saying she believes he “needs a well-earned break” before eventually adding: “I am sure he will have a role, I am sure he will be vocal but he will not be part of the government.”
Mr Sunak was more direct in his reply by saying: “The simple answer for me is no.”
He received more applause from the studio audience during the debate, including for his reply to rate Johnson out of 10.