Rishi Sunak says Liz Truss risks tipping millions into ‘economic misery’ in acrimonious head-to-head debate

Rishi Sunak has warned Liz Truss risks tipping millions into “economic misery” and fuelling inflation with her economic proposals, as the pair trashed each other’s policy platforms in an acrimonious debate.

Hitting out the foreign secretary’s £30 billion plus tax cut plans, the former chancellor claimed there was “nothing Conservative” about her approach, with the party having “absolutely no chance” of winning the next election.

In their first head-to-head debate in the final stage of the Tory leadership contest, Ms Truss hit back, accusing Mr Sunak of “scaremongering” and “Project Fear” — a term Brexiteers used to dismiss the economic warnings of the Remain camp in 2016.

While both suggested more help for the British public on rocketing energy bills if they replace Boris Johnson in No 10, Ms Truss also went on to claim Mr Sunak’s current proposals would tip the country into recession.

“This chancellor has raised taxes to the highest rate in 70 years and we’re now predicted a recession,” she said. “The truth is in the figures”.

Despite calls from some Tories to tone down the blue-on-blue attacks, the pair also clashed over the UK’s policy towards China while Ms Truss sidestepped the opportunity to distance herself from comments by the culture secretary, who earlier mocked Mr Sunak’s expensive clothing.

Appearing in front of 2019 Conservative voters in a debate hosted by the BBC, both Ms Truss and Mr Sunak agreed to publish their tax affairs if they win the contest and were also challenged on their assessment of the outgoing prime minister.

Ms Truss gave Mr Johnson seven out of 10 while Mr Sunak said: “My views are clear, when he was great he was great and it got to a point where we need to move forward. In delivering a solution to Brexit and winning an election that’s a 10/10 – you’ve got to give the guy credit for that, no-one else could probably have done that.”

On China, the foreign secretary demanded a “tougher stance” on technology companies such as the Chinese-owned app TikTok.

“We have to learn the mistakes we made of Europe becoming dependent on Russian oil and gas, we cannot allow that to happen with China,” she stressed.

And she also accused Mr Sunak of pushing for a closer trading relationship with Beijing while working at the Treasury, adding: “I’m delighted that you’ve come round to my way of thinking.”

While Mr Sunak appeared to win more applause from the audience, a snap survey asking voters who performed best was almost a tie, with the former chancellor on 39 per cent and Ms Truss on 38 per cent.

Among Conservative voters Ms Truss performed better (47 per cent versus 38 per cent for Mr Sunak) while the former chancellor won more support among Labour voters — 41 per cent versus 30 per cent for Ms Truss.

During the debate Ms Truss, the foreign secretary, was also questioned on comments made in a 2012 book — Britannia Unchained — which claimed British workers are among the “worst idlers in the world”.

But she hit back, saying that particular chapter was written by Dominic Raab, the current deputy prime minister, who is “supporting” Mr Sunak’s bid to replace Mr Johnson in No 10.

In response to the debate, Shabana Mahmood MP, Labour’s national campaign co-ordinator, said: “Neither Liz Truss nor Rishi Sunak offers working people anything except 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 spending promises, bitter attacks, and a trashing of the Tories’ 12 years in government. Neither offered anything resembling a plan to tackle the cost of living crisis they created or for a better future for the country.”

Meanwhile, a Liberal Democrat spokesperson offered a more succinct summary of the party’s thoughts on the debate, with a one word response: “Eurgh”.

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