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Liz Truss has said she is not “complacent” about her prospects in the race for No 10 after winning Ben Wallace’s backing.
The Tory leadership hopeful’s campaign was boosted by a major endorsement from the Defence Secretary on Thursday.
It came after she and rival Rishi Sunak faced a grilling from voters in the first official hustings with Conservative Party members in Leeds.
Asked during a visit to Norfolk on Friday if she was confident she was now set to win the leadership contest, she said: “I’m not at all complacent. I’m fighting for every vote across the country.”
She added: “I’m delighted to have the support of Ben Wallace. We’ve worked very closely together. He’s been a fantastic defence secretary for our country.”
Meanwhile, in a thinly veiled swipe at the former chancellor’s record, she warned it would be “risky” for the country to continue along the current economic path.
Ms Truss insisted the way to get growth is to “help people and businesses keep more of their own money”, saying the “number one priority should be avoiding recession”.
She said: “What is risky is carrying on on the same economic path, which is currently forecast to lead us to recession. That is the risk.
“What I’m talking about is unleashing opportunity, unleashing growth, keeping taxes low. That will see the economy grow, and it will see us being able to pay back our debt quicker.”
Ms Truss also committed to “challenging the current orthodoxy around investment spending”, with more going into “left-behind areas”.
Mr Sunak is set to face veteran political journalist Andrew Neil for a crunch interview on Friday – an opportunity Channel 4 said Ms Truss had so far declined earlier this week.
Asked if she will be watching, Ms Truss said she will be celebrating her wedding anniversary.
She told reporters: “It’s my wedding anniversary today. So I’ll be celebrating 22 years of being married to my husband.”
Earlier, Mr Wallace accused Mr Sunak of trying to block “vital” defence money during his time as chancellor.
In a series of interviews on Friday, the defence secretary explained the reasons he had thrown his support behind Ms Truss.
He told Sky News she recognised “the threats we face every day” need to be “funded properly”, pointing to her commitment to increase defence spending to 3% of GDP by 2030.
He also said that without any prompting or asking, Ms Truss wrote a letter to the Prime Minister saying that defence needed more money.
In contrast Mr Sunak, the defence secretary said, tried to block “vital” defence money in 2019, only to find himself overruled by the PM.
Mr Wallace was asked by LBC’s Nick Ferrari how obstructive the former chancellor was in granting more money to the armed forces.
He replied: “I don’t think he was obstructive…”
When pressed further, he said: “I mean, the multi-year settlement that we got was not what the Treasury had wanted.
“They wanted a one-year settlement. This was back in 2019, I think. It was vital that we got a multi-year settlement.
“The Prime Minister effectively asserted his authority and made sure that’s what happened.”
Mr Ferrari asked: “But Mr Sunak was not in support?”
Mr Wallace said: “Not that I remember.”
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, he said Mr Sunak would be a “fine member of anybody’s Cabinet”, but added: “For me, Liz is the one that I think will do best by defence of this nation, by investing in it.”
The two Tory leadership hopefuls were questioned separately on an array of policy areas in Thursday’s hustings – as well as their predictions for the women’s Euro 2022 final.
The event, hosted by Mr 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 and prime minister closes on September 2.
While they did not address one another directly, tax continued to be a significant dividing line between them.
Mr Sunak said he would not “embark on a spree, borrowing tens and tens of billions of pounds of unfunded promises and put them on the country’s credit card”.
Meanwhile, Ms Truss criticised windfall taxes – something Mr Sunak imposed as a one-off on energy companies as chancellor.
She said: “I don’t believe in windfall taxes because they put off future investment.
“What we should be doing is encouraging Shell and other companies to invest in the United Kingdom, because we need to get our productivity up, we need capital investment.”