Sky News has cancelled the third Tory leadership debate planned for tomorrow, after frontrunners Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss today said they would not participate.
It comes after a bruising ITV debate last night, which saw candidates launch vicious attacks on each other for 60 minutes.
The clashes were particularly heated between Sunak, Truss and Penny Mordaunt.
There will be an MP leadership vote today and one tomorrow, with Tom Tugendhat and Kemi Badenoch expected to be eliminated in these two rounds.
The Sky News debate was going to pit the final three contenders against each other tomorrow, before MPs had their final vote on Wednesday and whittled the candidates down to the final two.
It will then be for the Conservative party’s 200,000 members to decide their next leader and the UK’s next Prime Minister.
Sunak and Truss are increasingly looking like they will end up in the final two, after they locked horns last night over the economy.
Sunak said Truss’ plan to cut taxes by tens of billions of pounds, and to pay for them through public borrowing, was “something for nothing economics” that are closer in spirit to socialism than conservatism.
“We’ve got to the point where even Keir Starmer is attacking leadership candidates for peddling the fantasy economics of unfunded promises,” he said.
“If we’re not for sound money, what is the point of the Conservative Party? It’s the most Conservative of Conservative values.”
Truss slammed Sunak’s series of tax rises post-Covid in response.
“Raising taxes at this moment will choke off economic growth and it will prevent us getting the growth we need to pay off the debt,” Truss said.
She also defended some of her early gaffes in the campaign, saying that “I may not be the slickest presenter, but when I say I’ll do something, I do it”.
Mordaunt has seen her momentum seriously stall in the past few days, after shooting out to surprise favouritism last week.
The trade minister has been savaged by a series of press stories questioning her work ethic in previous government jobs, which has been compounded by two poor debate performances.
Mordaunt decried the “smears” and said “this is the type of toxic politics people want to get away from”.