Liz Truss’s plans for £30bn of tax cuts are “immoral” and would cost people their jobs and homes, Tory leadership contender Rishi Sunak has said.
In his first speech to Conservative activists since joining Ms Truss on the final shortlist of two to become prime minister, the former chancellor said he offered the “moral courage” to tell the truth about the economy even if it hurt him politically.
He effectively accused his rival of dishonesty over the risk that immediate tax cuts would drive up inflation and mortgage interest rates and he implied the NHS was not safe in Ms Truss’s hands because of her plan to reverse his 1.25 per cent hike in National Insurance contributions to pay for health and social care.
Mr Sunak today said he would put the UK on “crisis footing” from day one as prime minister to deal with what he described as a national emergency over the economy, NHS backlogs and unauthorised migration.
For the first time, the victor of the Tory MPs’ ballots at Westminster admitted that he was the “underdog” in the vote of around 160,000 Conservative Party members who will choose the successor to Boris Johnson as PM.
And – in an apparent reference to Mr Johnson’s reported support for his opponent – he claimed that the “forces that be” were trying to block him from reaching 10 Downing Street.
“The forces that be want this to be a coronation for the other candidate,” said Sunak. “But I think members want a choice and they are prepared to listen,”
In a signal to grassroots Tories, he chose party icon Margaret Thatcher’s hometown of Grantham to deliver his speech, and described his economic approach as “common-sense Thatcherism”.
Mr Sunak defended his NI hike, saying: “I have taken a lot of political pain to make sure the NHS has what it needs and I’m the candidate who can say `The NHS is safe in my hands’.”
And he poured scorn on Ms Truss’s promise to raise spending on defence to 3 per cent of GDP by the end of the decade, saying that “arbitrary” figures were no substitute for “providing the military with the resources it needs”.