UK PM race: Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss spar over tax in leadership debate

Published on Jul 17, 2022 07:16 AM IST

The five remaining contenders – including Sunak and Truss – to succeed Boris Johnson as the leader of the ruling Conservatives, and, therefore, as the next British prime minister, went head-to-head in the first of three televised debates.

Rishi Sunak (left) and Liz Truss. (AP)
Rishi Sunak (left) and Liz Truss. (AP)
Agencies |

London: British foreign minister Liz Truss clashed over tax policy with former finance minister Rishi Sunak on Friday, as the five remaining contenders to be Britain’s next prime minister went head-to-head in the first of three televised debates.

An initial field of 11 challengers has been whittled down following two days of votes by lawmakers from the ruling Conservative Party.

While Sunak has topped those two votes, he faces stiff competition from Truss, who has the backing of a number of senior figures, and junior trade minister Penny Mordaunt, who polls suggest is the most popular with party members who will decide the winner.

Also Read | Boris Johnson to allies: 'Back anyone, but Rishi Sunak for Britain PM'

Former equalities minister Kemi Badenoch and Tom Tugendhat, chair of parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, also remain in the running but trail the others in support from Conservative lawmakers.

A snap poll by market research company Opinium of the British public showed Tugendhat was viewed as the best performer by 36% of viewers. Sunak came second on 24%, followed by Mordaunt and Badenoch on 12% and Truss at the rear on 7%.

Whoever gets the job will take on rocketing inflation and low economic growth, as well as the public’s lack of confidence in politics after Boris Johnson’s scandal-ridden time in power.

Sunak and Truss tussled over economic policy in the debate, hosted by broadcaster Channel 4. Truss has proposed scrapping increases in payroll tax and corporation tax proposed by Sunak, at a cost of over $36 billion a year, to be funded by a slower reduction in government debt built up during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Also Read | UK PM race: Rishi Sunak, Penny Mordaunt open big lead to succeed Boris Johnson

“We have to be honest, borrowing your way out of inflation isn’t a plan, it’s a fairy tale,” Sunak told Truss.

Truss said tax rises would undermine business investment just as the economy was faltering. “You cannot tax your way to grace,” she said.

Johnson, who resigned as the leader of the ruling Conservative Party on July 7, has been urging defeated Tory leadership candidates not to back former chancellor Sunak, who is widely blamed for Johnson’s loss of support among his own party members, The Times newspaper reported.

“The whole No 10 [Downing Street] team hates Rishi. It’s personal. It’s vitriolic. They don’t blame Saj [Sajid Javid] for bringing him down. They blame Rishi. They think he was planning this for months,” the newspaper quoted a source as saying.

All five candidates will clash in a television debate on Sunday before the third round of voting set on Monday, when Conservative MPs will further narrow down the field as the candidate with the least votes is knocked out of the race until only two remain.

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