Liz Truss says 'I was wrong' on Brexit as she battles Rishi Sunak to lead Britain

Candidates make pledges to win over Tory members in head-to-head, after Penny Mordaunt was eliminated from race

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Liz Truss on Thursday launched her pitch to Conservative Party members with a promise to revamp Britain's economy — and a statement that she was “wrong” to have once opposed Brexit.

Ms Truss, who faces Rishi Sunak in a seven-week contest to be Britain's next prime minister, promised an emergency budget to cut national insurance and fuel taxes and said she would govern as a “true Conservative”.

The foreign secretary was grilled by the BBC's Today programme on her changing positions — having defended economic policies she now opposes and campaigned to stay in the EU in 2016.

“When people voted for Brexit in 2016, I fully embraced the choice that the people of Britain made,” she said.

“I was wrong and I'm prepared to admit I was wrong.”

While defending outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson, she said she was “not the continuity economic policy candidate — that is where we didn’t get it right”.

Ms Truss's policy proposals include:

· Scrapping a rise in national insurance brought in under Mr Johnson, which Ms Truss publicly defended at the time but said she had opposed in private.

· A one-year moratorium on green taxes in order to reduce energy bills, with overall tax cuts costing about £30 billion ($36bn) to £40bn.

· A review to “find efficiencies in government spending”.

· Bringing in a “bold programme of supply-side reforms”, including scrapping regulations left over from EU membership, to increase growth and thereby tax revenue.

Asked if it she was not gambling government revenue on the hope that the economy would grow, Ms Truss said: “The gamble is what we're doing at the moment … we need to do something different.”

Meanwhile, Mr Sunak claimed that he could win an election for the Conservatives, but that Ms Truss could not.

Tory MPs chose the pair to enter the run-off for the leadership, as Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt was eliminated when she came third behind Ms Truss by eight votes.

Mr Sunak was the parliamentary party’s favourite, winning 137 votes to Ms Truss’s 113.

But bookmakers placed her as the frontrunner, with early indications suggesting she is more popular with Tory members.

The pair will try to win over the support of local politicians on Thursday when they take part in a private campaign event for the Conservative Councillors’ Association.

They will then tour the UK to take part in 12 hustings for the about 180,000 Tory members who will vote for their next leader. The result will be announced on September 5.

The new leader of the Conservative Party will then become the next British prime minister.

Mr Sunak said his rival would not be able to beat opposition Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer at a general election.

“I’m confident that we can do that and we’ve got a really positive message to take out to all our members now — crucially, who is the best person to beat Keir Starmer and the Labour Party at the next election?” he said.

“I believe I’m the only candidate who can do that.”

Later writing in the Daily Telegraph, Mr Sunak tried to dial down the bitter attacks that have dogged the Westminster leg of the contest, saying Ms Truss is someone “I like and respect”.

He said he “will govern as a Thatcherite”, after he was criticised by right-wing Tories for wanting to hold off on tax cuts until inflation is under control.

In the Daily Mail, Ms Truss attacked the government’s tax record, which was overseen by Mr Sunak until he resigned, triggering Mr Johnson’s downfall.

“We have been going in the wrong direction on tax, with the tax burden at its highest in 70 years,” Ms Truss wrote.

“I am the tax-cutting candidate who will help squeezed families by reversing April’s national insurance rise and suspending the green levy on energy bills.

“I will move to bring in an emergency budget to get on with doing this quickly, and announce a spending review to find more efficiencies in government spending.”

Mr Johnson has not publicly backed any candidate to replace him, but some of his most loyal allies have come out for Ms Truss.

In his final Prime Minister’s Questions in Parliament, he offered advice to his successor in what appeared to be a swipe at Mr Sunak, his former chancellor.

“Cut taxes and deregulate wherever you can and make this the greatest place to live and invest, which it is,” Mr Johnson said.

He said the new prime minister should be prepared to ignore their chancellor.

“I love the Treasury, but remember that if we’d always listened to the Treasury we wouldn’t have built the M25 or the Channel Tunnel,” Mr Johnson said.

UK Conservatives on the leadership campaign trail - in pictures

Updated: July 21, 2022, 9:34 AM
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