Two of the frontrunners to be the next Prime Minister locked horns over taxes during a fiery leadership debate.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and former Chancellor Rishi Sunak clashed over how best to fund public services and tame inflation amid an escalating cost-of-living crisis.
Truss criticised former Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s decision to hike national insurance in an attempt to ease a backlog of NHS treatments.
“You have to be honest. Borrowing your way out of inflation isn’t a plan. It’s a fairytale.”
Chancellor Rishi Sunak
She attacked the tax rises as “wrong” and pledged to reverse them, if she won the Tory leadership contest.
Instead, she would borrow more money and extend the period of time required to pay off debt relating to the pandemic – noting that the UK was borrowing less than the US, Canada or Japan.
Sunak hit back – engaging in friendly fire with his former Cabinet colleague – describing her economic views as fairytales.
He said: “You have to be honest. Borrowing your way out of inflation isn’t a plan. It’s a fairytale.”
Fiery debate as crucial week of voting looms
The ex-Chancellor argued tax rises were needed to fund the NHS, and that there was no difference between debt and Covid-19 debt.
The debate, broadcast last night on Channel 4, featured all five remaining leadership contenders and also included sparring over gender self-ID and trust in politics.
Kemi Badenoch challenged Penny Mordaunt’s claim that she did not back self-identification, when she had responsibility for equalities issues.
She said: “When I took over equalities minister in 2020 what was being pushed was self-ID. I don’t understand how that would have changed unless someone else did it. My understanding was the previous minister who had the role had wanted self-ID.”
Mordaunt denied this, describing herself as a “biological woman”, and that a man who had transitioned was “not the same as me.”
Meanwhile, Tom Tugendhat was the only candidate to explicitly say the departing Prime Minister Boris Johnson was not an honest man.
The debate is the first of two this weekend, with a second on ITV this Sunday.
Snap polling from by Opinium of 1,159 people who watched the debate found that Tugendhat performed the best during the debate.
|Contenders||MP votes in second round|
|Suella Braverman||27 – ELIMINATED|
Over a third (36 per cent) believed the relatively unknown foreign affairs committee chair had performed the best.
This placed him nine points ahead of Sunak, while Mordaunt and Badenoch came third and fourth respectively.
Truss was bottom of the pile, winning over just six per cent of the viewers.
However, the contenders are most keen to win over MPs, who will be engaging in a third round of voting on Monday.
Tory MPs will whittle the field down to two final contenders next week, before around 160,000 Tory members decide the party’s next leader in a postal vote in September.
Sunak is currently in pole position among MPs, while Mordaunt is currently in second place – meaning the other three have ground to make up if they want to enter the final two in next week’s voting rounds.