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Truss and Sunak to clash again in second head-to-head debate

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Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak will clash on TV for a second time in 24 hours after the first head-to-head debate saw the two contenders to be the next prime minister tear strips off each other over their economic plans.

The Foreign Secretary, who is celebrating her 47th birthday on Tuesday, and the former chancellor will face each other in a TalkTV/Sun event at 6pm, with both sides hoping to learn tactical lessons from the BBC clash on Monday night.

That showdown saw the two rivals for the Tory leadership trash each other’s economic plans, while personal attacks continued with Mr Sunak accused by allies of Ms Truss of “mansplaining” during the debate.

Mr Sunak claimed there is “nothing Conservative” about Ms Truss’s approach to cutting taxes and pumping up borrowing,  arguing it would give the party “absolutely no chance” of winning the next election.

Foreign Secretary Ms Truss, in turn, suggested her rival would lead the country into a recession and criticised him for increasing taxes to the “highest rate in 70 years”.

On China, Ms Truss accused her rival of “pushing for closer trade relationships” while Mr Sunak said “Liz has been on a journey” to get to a point where she opposes closer ties.

Mr Sunak also sought to stress his decision to quit Mr Johnson’s government as a sign he acts according to his principles while Ms Truss stressed her loyalty to her current boss.

But both candidates ruled out a job for Mr Johnson 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.”

A snap poll by Opinium, based on a sample of 1,032 voters, found 39% believed Mr Sunak had performed best compared to 38% for Ms Truss, but crucially Tory voters split 47% to 38% in favour of the Foreign Secretary.

With postal ballots set to arrive on Tory members’ doorsteps by August 5, Mr Sunak needs good performances in the debates and the early hustings.

Opinion polls and member surveys have suggested that he trails Ms Truss in the battle to win the votes of card-carrying Conservatives, with the Foreign Secretary the bookmakers’ favourite to be elected as Tory leader on September 5.

Former Cabinet minister David Davis, who supports Mr Sunak, said Ms Truss’ policies would risk fuelling inflation, leading to the Bank of England being forced to increase interest rates as high as 7% – hitting people with mortgages and other debts.

“The Tory Party, generally speaking, is a bit older than average. It’s a little bit more middle class, but not so much these days, but a little bit more middle class,” he told Sky News.

Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss will face each other in a second debate on Tuesday evening (Jacob King/PA) (PA Wire)
Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss will face each other in a second debate on Tuesday evening (Jacob King/PA) (PA Wire)

“It will care about things like their offspring having to face these sorts of interest rates in the future, so that matters.”

He rejected suggestions from allies of Ms Truss, including Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey, that Mr Sunak had been “mansplaining” and talking over his rival.

“Sometimes it’s important to intervene in debates,” Mr Davis said.

He added: “We need the person who a) knows what he stands for, b) is courageous enough to take the difficult decisions and c) determined enough to do it.

“And that’s Rishi Sunak.”

Cabinet minister Simon Clarke, an ally of Ms Truss, said: “I think there were some pretty aggressive moments at the outset from Rishi towards Liz in terms of interrupting her as she tried to set out her case but, by and large, I think the debate was held in a reasonable spirit reflecting, obviously, the importance of the issues.”

Mr Clarke, who was Mr Sunak’s ministerial deputy in the Treasury before the former chancellor resigned, defended Ms Truss’ economic plans.

He told Sky that putting the Covid-related debt in a separate category would give the ability to pay it back over a longer period, allowing more flexibility with day-to-day spending.

But he added: “There will be decisions to be taken on wider levels of government spending across the board to make sure this is a costed plan.

“As Conservatives we have to believe – I do, very firmly, believe – that  growing the economy through pro-growth measures including tax cuts is the right thing to do.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the Tory leadership hopefuls’ first head-to-head TV showdown demonstrated the Conservatives had “lost the plot”.

“I watched as much as I could bear of it, because it showed just the two contenders taking lumps out of each other, talking over each other, talking about clothing and earrings instead of the health service,” Sir Keir told the  BBC.

“So, if ever there was an example of a party that is absolutely lost the plot, lost any sense of purpose then it was that debate last night”.

– The debate will air on the Sun website and TalkTV from 6pm.

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