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The second TV clash between Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss was dramatically halted and subsequently cancelled after host Kate McCann fainted live on air.
The Tory leadership debate, broadcast on TalkTV, was just over halfway through before a loud noise interrupted the Foreign Secretary who, holding her hands to her face, said: “oh my God.”
The debate was then taken off-air.
TalkTV apologised to viewers for not resuming the programme, saying in a statement: “Kate McCann fainted on air tonight, and although she is fine, the medical advice was that we shouldn’t continue with the debate.
“We apologise to our viewers and listeners.”
Ms McCann, TalkTV’s political editor, was meant to co-host The Sun’s Showdown: The Fight for No.10 alongside The Sun’s political editor Harry Cole, but he tested positive for Covid-19 hours before the programme was due to air.
The former chancellor and Foreign Secretary both tweeted to wish the journalist well shortly after the interruption.
Speaking to the PA news agency, audience member Jordan Kiss, from Warrington, said: “We were honestly shocked by what happened and some of us were quite worried.”
Mr Kiss, who was sat in a separate room at the studios in Ealing, said “the producers reassured us and told us that a paramedic was on scene and that he was giving Kate attention”.
Before the debate was taken off air, the two Tory rivals locked horns once again as they fought for the support of their party members, with taxes and the economy causing the most acrimony.
Ms Truss said it was “morally wrong” to raise taxes during a cost-of-living crisis, but Mr Sunak quickly shot back, saying it was “morally wrong” to heap more debt on future generations.
The Foreign Secretary said: “What has happened is that the tax has been raised on families through national insurance so that they are having to pay more money to the Treasury.
“I do think it is morally wrong at this moment when families are struggling to pay for food that we have put up taxes on ordinary people when we said we wouldn’t in our manifesto and when we didn’t need to do so.”
Interjecting, Mr Sunak said: “What’s morally wrong is asking our children and grandchildren to pick up the tab for the bills that we are not prepared to meet.”
The two also clashed over the rise in national insurance, brought in to help pay for the NHS and social care.
The former chancellor described himself as “brave” for introducing the £12 billion tax increase to pay for health social care, telling the debate: “I made sure we got the NHS the funding it needed to help work through the backlogs, get everyone the care they needed and do that as quickly as possible.
“It wasn’t an easy thing for me to do, I got a lot of criticism for it, but I believe it was the right thing to do as I don’t think we can have an NHS which is ultimately the country’s number one public service priority that is underfunded and not able to deliver the care it needs.
“And that’s why I think you can be reassured the NHS is safe in my hands because I’ve taken what was a brave decision to get it the support it needed.”
On the other hand, Ms Truss said she would scrap the national insurance rise and use general taxation to fund the NHS.
She said: “I am committed to the extra money that was announced for the NHS. It is needed to deal with the backlog, and I would fund that money out of general taxation.
“Under my plans, we will still be able to start paying the debt down within three years, so it is affordable, and the fact is whatever Rishi says now, we didn’t need to raise national insurance in order to pay, we did have that money available in the budget, it was a choice to break our manifesto commitment and raise national insurance.
“I think it was the wrong choice to make, I spoke out against it at the time in Cabinet, I still remain opposed to it, and I’d reverse that rise.”
On “how we fund things” and “the public services that we rely on”, Mr Sunak said it was “entirely reasonable” to ask the largest companies to pay “a bit more” tax because they received taxpayer-funded support during the pandemic.
However, Ms Truss, who would scrap the scheduled 19p to 25p increase in corporation tax, said: “I am not talking about cutting corporation tax, I’m talking about not raising corporation tax.
“Under Rishi’s plan we will end up raising corporation tax to the same level it is in France, more than 10 percentage points higher than it is in Ireland.”
Mr Sunak was also asked if he had the “guts to stand up to (Vladimir) Putin” by Andrew from London, a coordinator for a logistics company at Heathrow Airport.
The former chancellor replied: “Yes, Andrew, is the quick answer and the reason you can believe me is because as chancellor I did a couple of things that demonstrates that strength, a year and a half ago I made sure that our armed forces got the largest uplift in funding that they’ve had since the end of the Cold War to make sure that we’re protected against threats, like Putin.
“As chancellor I also worked with all my finance ministers around the world to put in place a sanctions package, the likes of which we had never seen to try and tighten the grip on Putin’s war machine, stop funding going to him, and it does require toughness to stand up to him, and it is going to require all of us to go through some difficult times.”