Sunak steps up attack on Truss over economic plans

Former chancellor Rishi Sunak defended his economic approach and warned that Liz Truss’ approach was a ‘gamble’ with people’s finances.

Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak

Rishi Sunak said he would not make promises he could not keep when it came to the cost-of-living crisis as he stepped up his attack on Liz Truss’ plans for tax cuts, warning they would increase borrowing and fuel inflation.

He compared his approach to Margaret Thatcher’s, saying she was prepared to say things “that may have been difficult to hear, but were right for the country”.

The former chancellor has acknowledged he is the underdog in the race to become the next prime minister but insisted he was still in the contest and it was important the public had the chance to debate the “very clear difference” between the two candidates’ approaches.

The leadership hopeful told BBC Radio 4’s Today he was “very privileged and humbled” that supporters of Margaret Thatcher’s economic policies – including former chancellor Lord Lawson – were backing him.

He said of Mrs Thatcher: “She knew that you have to grip inflation – tax cuts funded by borrowing aren’t a sensible approach, but also this… actually, one thing I admire and respect about her, and I think many other Conservatives do as well, is she was prepared not just to say the easy things that people may have wanted to hear.

“She said the things that may have been difficult to hear, but were right for the country and had the courage of her convictions. And that’s the standard that I hold myself to.

“I don’t want to make promises that I can’t keep. And that’s why I believe my plans are the right ones for our nation.”

The leadership contest runs until September 5 and critics have complained it is dragging on for too long, leaving the country without an effective government until the new occupant of No 10 is in place.

“When it’s over I’m sure we can look back and reflect,” Mr Sunak said.

“One thing is clear – there is a very clear difference of opinion in this leadership election, there is a difference of opinion in how you grip inflation and whether that’s a priority or not; there’s a difference of opinion about whether you prioritise – in my view – helping vulnerable people with the cost of living rather than giving tax cuts funded by borrowing to very large companies and relatively wealthy people.

“Those are big differences, and it’s right that we have a debate about them because they are going to shape the course of our nation over the coming months and years, so I think it’s important these ideas are debated.”

He said that any measures to alleviate the cost-of-living had to be affordable and not make inflation worse, because otherwise it would be a “gamble with people’s savings, with their pensions, with mortgage rates”.

But he declined to be drawn on whether he would revolt and vote against Ms Truss’ emergency budget if she became prime minister.

Defence minister James Heappey, a supporter of Ms Truss, said she was “in the business of cutting taxes”.

Asked on Times Radio whether people should be expecting to pay more in other taxes as a result of the Foreign Secretary’s pledge to reverse the rise in national insurance contributions, he said: “There’s definitely not any part of Liz’s body, as far as I can tell, that agrees with raising taxes.”

Ms Truss used Tuesday night’s leadership hustings in Birmingham to reject criticism of her tax-cutting plans.

“This whole language of ‘unfunded’ tax cuts implies the static model, the so-called abacus economics that the Treasury orthodoxy has promoted for years, but it hasn’t worked in our economy because what we have ended up with is high tax, high spending and low growth,” she said.

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