UK’s Sunak and Truss clash over tax in leadership debate

  • No clear favorite in the race to succeed Boris Johnson
  • Former finance minister Sunak won the first two MP votes
  • Sunak and Foreign Secretary Truss clash over taxation
  • Outsider Tugendhat considered the best performer by the public

LONDON, July 15 (Reuters) – British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss clashed with former finance minister Rishi Sunak on Friday over tax policy, as the five remaining candidates for the post of British prime minister are faced in the first of three televised debates. .

A first field of 11 challengers was narrowed after two days of votes by lawmakers from the ruling Conservative Party. But no individual has yet emerged as the obvious successor to Boris Johnson who announced he was stepping down following a series of scandals.

While Sunak topped both of those votes, he faces fierce competition from Truss, who has the support of a number of high-profile figures, and junior trade minister Penny Mordaunt, who polls show is the most popular with party members who will decide the winner.

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Former equality minister Kemi Badenoch and Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also remain in the running but follow others in favor of the Tory lawmakers.

A snap poll by market research firm Opinium of the British public – who have no say in the Conservative Party’s decision on the next prime minister – showed Tugendhat was seen as the top performer by 36% of viewers.

Sunak came second with 24%, followed by Mordaunt and Badenoch with 12% and Truss at the back with 7%.

Whoever gets the job will have to contend with soaring inflation and weak economic growth, as well as a lack of public confidence in politics after Johnson’s outrageous swipe to power.

Sunak and Truss sparred over economic policy during the debate, hosted by broadcaster Channel 4.

Truss proposed scrapping payroll tax and corporation tax increases proposed by Sunak, at a cost of more than 30 billion pounds ($36 billion) a year, which would be funded by a slower reduction in public debt accumulated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have to be honest, borrowing to get out of inflation is not a plan, it’s a fairy tale,” Sunak told Truss.

Truss said the tax hikes would undermine business investment just as the economy faltered.

“You can’t tax your way to grace,” she said.

Voter polls also suggest the Tories are significantly behind the opposition Labour.

“I’m very aware that while my party is choosing a new leader, you’re watching us choose your next prime minister…I hope you like at least one of us,” Mordaunt told viewers.

Tugendhat was applauded by the studio audience for most clearly distancing himself from Johnson – shaking his head when asked if he trusted the Prime Minister – while Badenoch said his rival dodged decisions difficult by never serving in Johnson’s government.

UP TO TWO BY JULY 21

Sunak, whose decision to leave the Treasury last week helped spark a cascade of ministerial resignations that brought down Johnson, remains the favorite among his 358 fellow Tory parliamentarians.

But his lead over Truss and Mordaunt is slim, and the two could overtake him depending on which lawmakers who have backed other candidates choose to back. The battle has grown increasingly hostile as rivals fight to stay in the competition.

On Thursday, Attorney General Suella Braverman was knocked out of the race and she threw her support behind Truss, who also won the backing of David Frost who negotiated Britain’s exit from the European Union. Read more

The Times newspaper reported that Johnson urged defeated leadership candidates to support “anyone but Rishi”.

Meanwhile, Mordaunt, a lesser-known figure to the general public who has become a favorite with bookmakers, faces growing attacks from rival camps over her experience, with Frost saying she wasn’t tough enough on the EU, a key issue for many. conservatives.

Truss and Badenoch also criticized Mordaunt for taking a stance they considered too liberal on transgender issues.

Polls for lawmakers will resume on Monday with the candidate with the fewest votes eliminated each time until the final two are chosen by July 21.

The new leader will then be chosen by the country’s 200,000 Conservative Party members and will be announced on September 5.

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Additional reporting by William James; edited by John Stonestreet and Jonathan Oatis

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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