Liz Truss’ camp accused Mr Sunak of “mansplaining and screaming private school behavior” after the most aggressive televised debate yet
The foreign secretary claimed the ex-chancellor had indulged in “Project Fear” as he warned tax cuts would push up inflation and interest rates.
Rishi Sunak accused Liz Truss of wanting “to misery millions of people” with her economic plans as the two contenders for No. 10 clashed angrily in their first head-to-head debate.
Mr Sunak repeatedly accused his rival of hypocrisy, citing her role in the Remain campaign and her support for balancing the books on austerity.
The ill-tempered encounter came as the two Conservative leadership candidates met for a one-on-one debate in Stoke-on-Trent hosted by the BBC and several days of angry briefings from both sides ensued.
Other Tories have warned that the increasingly apparent hostility could put off voters and jeopardize the party’s chances of post-election reunification.
Mr Sunak, who is trailing Ms Truss in the polls, came out with an aggressive performance in which he took aim at the Secretary of State’s plans to cut taxes immediately, scrap Social Security increases and freeze corporate taxes rather than raise them.
According to supporters, he deliberately took a confrontational approach to shatter his reputation for being “too slick” and to show he has the “passion” to take on the number 10. The ex-Chancellor wants to highlight the possibility that his opponent’s policies could push up interest rates by hundreds of pounds a month for the average mortgage borrower.
He told Ms Truss: “They have promised almost £40bn in unfunded tax cuts, £40bn more borrowing.” He pointed to claims by one of her advisers that the plan would push interest rates up to 7 per cent, saying : “That’s thousands of pounds on your mortgage bill, it’s going to leave millions of people miserable, and it’s going to mean we have absolutely no chance of winning the next election either.”
Mr Sunak concluded: “If we are not for sound money, what is the point of the Conservative Party?”
Ms. Truss replied, “I don’t think we hear that negative, declinistic language.” She added, “If we follow Rishi’s plan, we’re headed for a recession.”
In response to his warnings about the future history of interest rates, Ms Truss said: “This is scaremongering, this is Project Fear.”
Mr Sunak, who backed Leave in 2016 when Ms Truss was campaigning for Remain, hit back: “I remember the referendum campaign and there was one person who was on the side of Project Fear – it was you, not me.” Ms Truss said, “Maybe I learned from that.”
She attacked the Social Security hike that went into effect in April, saying: “We promised not to raise them in our election manifesto in 2019, the people here who voted Conservative for the first time expect us to deliver on our promises, so I would.” undo the increase in national insurance.”
The couple also clashed over China, as Mr Sunak claimed Ms Truss had been soft on Beijing, pointing out that she once celebrated a “golden era” in Britain-China relations.
The Foreign Secretary said Britain should “learn from the mistakes we made in allowing Europe to become dependent on Russian oil and gas”. When asked if she would crack down on Chinese-owned TikTok, she replied that “we’re going to crack down on this type of company absolutely.”
Mr Sunak tried to refute claims that he was too privileged to lead the country, saying: “My parents were part of an immigrant family that came here. They didn’t start out with very much, but they worked day and night, saving and sacrificing to give their three children a better future.
“And I’m nothing but enormously grateful for everything they’ve done for me. And I’m certainly not going to apologize for the fact that they worked hard and they wanted to do that for their children. And indeed, as I said before, those values, those conservative values about hard work and striving and building a better future for your children. That’s why I want to be prime minister.”
Ms Truss said: “Winchester is a very, very good school and I would love it if people across the country had the opportunity to go to a school like that.”
Despite the repeated arguments, both candidates said they would offer the other a role in their government – but ruled out giving Boris Johnson a cabinet job. The Foreign Secretary suggested the outgoing leader should never have quit, saying: “I didn’t think the mistakes he made were enough that the Conservative Party should have rejected him. That’s my view. And I’m still working with the Prime Minister.”
Ms Truss’ supporter Nadine Dorries, the culture secretary, accused Mr Sunak of ‘persuading’ his opponent during the hour-long debate. She tweeted: “It’s a terrible look. He is irritable, aggressive, bad-tempered. He loses it.”
A spokesman for the foreign minister said: “Rishi Sunak proved tonight that he is unfit for office. His aggressive mansplaining and yelling private school behavior is desperate, indecent and a gift to Labour.” Dominic Raab, the Deputy Prime Minister who supports Mr Sunak, replied: “It’s quite condescending for Liz to say that she doesn’t bother with this level of debate can reconcile and she gave as best as she could.”
Shabana Mahmood, Labour’s campaign manager, said: “Neither Liz Truss nor Rishi Sunak offer working people anything but more of the same – low growth, high taxes, frozen wages and longer waiting times.
“These two continuity candidates gave their now-familiar chorus of unfunded promises of spending, bitter attacks and a destruction of the 12-year Tory rule. None of them offered anything resembling a plan to deal with the cost of living crisis they created or a brighter future for the country.”
A quick poll by pollster Opinium found the general public was almost evenly split over which candidate did better, with 39 percent favoring Mr Sunak and 38 percent supporting Ms Truss.