Europe

Sunak, Truss grilled in televised debate as they continue UK leadership campaign

New leader of Conservative Party, and in turn prime minister, will be announced on Sept. 5

Karim El-Bar   | 05.08.2022
Sunak, Truss grilled in televised debate as they continue UK leadership campaign

LONDON 

UK Conservative Party leadership candidates Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss took part in a debate Thursday hosted by Sky News and were grilled by presenter Kay Burley and an audience made up of Conservative members.

The two candidates to become Britain’s next prime minister took turns rather than face each other. The Conservative Party membership will vote to decide on their next leader, who will also become the next prime minister.

Truss went first, and her segment was dominated by her U-turn on her proposal to link public sector pay to regional costs – a policy that would have seen public sector workers in poorer parts of the country be paid less.

An audience member told Truss he found that plan “actually quite offensive.”

Truss stuck to her line that her policy had been “misrepresented” by the media and that she was not going ahead with this policy because of the concerns that have been expressed.

Earlier in the day, the Bank of England warned that the country was heading into the longest recession since the great financial crisis and inflation of over 13%.

Truss said a recession was not “inevitable” and that “we can change the outcome.”

She was challenged by an audience member over her pledge to cut taxes to boost growth while maintaining, and in some instances increasing, public spending.

The audience member said her policies were “not sound economics,” but Truss said that "trying to balance the books prematurely is actually counterproductive."

On Ukraine, Truss said “it would be wrong for us to give away any territory on behalf of the Ukrainians."

It was then Sunak’s turn, and he said there were “of course” measures that could be taken to avert a recession.

He said that “gripping inflation” was the most important part of that.

“What I'm not going to do is embark on a borrowing spree worth tens of billions of pounds, put that on the country's credit card, (and) ask our kids and our grandkids to pick up the tab because that's not right. That's not responsible,” he said, in a swipe at Truss’ tax plans.

One audience member told Sunak sharply: "You knifed Boris for your own interest," referring to outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Sunak’s resignation as chancellor of the Exchequer, the second most powerful position in the government, marked the beginning of Johnson’s end, with 60 other government members of parliament (MPs) joining him hours and days later in tendering their resignations from Johnson’s scandal-plagued government.

"The government was on the wrong side of an ethical problem I could not defend,” Sunak said.

Truss is leading in internal Conservative Party membership polls by some margin, though Sunak led in the first stage of the contest with Conservative Party MPs.

Asked by an audience member if he would quit the race, Sunak said: "The quick answer is no, and that's because I'm fighting for something I really believe in and I'm taking my ideas around the country."

Sunak also denied that he ever benefited from offshore tax havens.

On Ukraine, Sunak said: “Yes, I am tough enough.”

In a poll of audience members present, Sunak won the debate.

The new leader of the Conservative Party, and in turn prime minister, will be announced on Sept. 5.

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