UK rivals for PM grilled by Tory members in first clash

Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak spelled out their vision of leadership as they clashed in the first official grilling in the presence of conservative party members in Leeds on Thursday.
Tory Leadership candidates, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak
Tory Leadership candidates, Liz Truss and Rishi SunakReuters

LONDON: In a bid to succeed Boris Johnson as UK's next Prime Minister, British Foreign Secretary Liz Trus said that she would prefer not to impose further windfall taxes on oil and gas companies while former Chancellor Sunak backtracked by putting forward the idea of scrapping VAT on energy bills to revive the country's economy and control the inflation if he is elected as the next PM.

Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak spelled out their vision of leadership as they clashed in the first official grilling in the presence of conservative party members in Leeds on Thursday.

Both contenders have to undergo bouts of 12 nationwide events as the first bout took place in Leeds, Northern England as the members elect a new leader.The result will be announced on Sept 5.

Former Chancellor Sunak faced a tough evening during the hustings for his lifestyle and dishonesty towards PM Boris Johnson whereas Truss had a fairly good time as she was backed by maximum support for the Prime Ministerial candidature.

Truss is leading in surveys of Tory members after vowing immediate tax cuts as Britain confronts a slump in living standards. Speaking to party members, she also pledged to get the Northern Powerhouse rail built, saying Leeds is the "largest city in Europe without its own metro system".

On the other hand, Rishi Sunak, when asked about tax hikes and Truss leading the race after she announced immediate tax cuts, he said, "In the face of challenges, understand to get a grip of inflation and borrowing first," adding that the government has already tried having low corporation tax to get businesses to invest and it hasn't worked.

On Foreign Policy, both the candidates underlined that they will continue to support war-torn Ukraine and resist the authoritarian rise of China.

Responding to a question on whether he would give the role of envoy to Ukraine to Johnson, Sunak said that he cannot commit to it and confirmed there will not be a role in the cabinet for the former PM as he no longer has the confidence of his party.

While on the topic of taxes, Liz Truss said it is "wrong to renege on a manifesto commitment" - referring to the Conservative Party's pledge not to raise taxes.

Notably, Rishi Sunak was also accused by a party member of stabbing Boris Johnson in the back, acknowledging to which the former Chancellor said, "I am very grateful to the prime minister and was proud to be part of his government."

However, he also said that he was "left with no choice but to resign" because of a "significant difference of opinion" on how to handle the cost of living crisis in the UK under the tenure of Johnson.

The former chancellor, Rishi Sunak and British Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss traded blows at each other over economic policy, and foreign relations in the first-ever TV debate on July 25.

The candidates reportedly clashed over Britain's future ties with China after cutting ties with Russia.

The second Tory leadership debate between Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, however, got cancelled on Tuesday (local time) after presenter Kate McCann fainted and collapsed live on air.

During Monday's BBC debate in Stoke-on-Trent, Sunak and Truss talked over each other and clashed on taxes, their Brexit records and the schools they went to.

Last week, Sunak and UK foreign secretary Liz Truss emerged as the final two candidates in the country's leadership race of the ruling Conservative party.

International Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt was knocked out in the final round of ballot among Conservative lawmakers.

Sunak won 137 votes and Truss 113. The contest to replace Boris Johnson as prime minister will now go before the Conservative Party's 200,000-odd dues-paying members, who will select the winner later this summer via mail-in ballot.

Both candidates have made pledges on tax cuts as the cost-of-living crisis continues to bite. However, Sunak dismissed as "fairytales" his rivals' promises of immediate tax cuts, arguing that inflation must be brought under control first.

Inflation in Britain rose by 9.4 per cent in June, hitting a fresh 40-year high, official statistics showed on Wednesday.

Truss, on the other hand, promised to start cutting taxes from day one. Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss are vying to replace Boris Johnson as UK's next Prime Minister.

The Tory Leadership Race was triggered after Johnson was forced to step down on July 7 amid an avalanche of resignations of government officials, who protested against his scandal-plagued leadership.

Johnson will continue to serve as caretaker prime minister until a new Tory leader succeeds him.

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