Rishi Sunak backs Liz Truss over Boris Johnson but she stays loyal to departing boss

Two candidates go head-to-head in Norwich with one more event before new Conservative Party leader is announced

Conservative leadership candidate Rishi Sunak speaks at the campaign event in Norwich on Friday. Reuters
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Rishi Sunak said he would back Liz Truss to be prime minister over Boris Johnson but she shunned the former chancellor in favour of her departing boss during the second-last Conservative leadership campaign event.

Both contenders for the top job faced questions on topics, including soaring energy bills, crime and climate change as they attacked each other's economic policies at the event in Norwich.

Mr Sunak said he would not pursue policies that “risk making inflation far worse and last far longer”, especially if they “amount to borrowing £50 billion [$59bn] and putting that on the country’s credit card”.

Ms Truss, the Foreign Secretary, said raising corporation tax — something Mr Sunak announced as chancellor — would “stop economic growth and put this country into a recession”.

She also caused a stir by saying the “jury’s out” on whether French President Emmanuel Macron is “friend or foe” to the UK.

Ms Truss said that if she was prime minister, she would judge him on “deeds, not words”.

In answer to the same question, Mr Sunak said Mr Macron was "a friend”.

Both were asked who would make a better prime minister: their rival or Mr Johnson.

Mr Sunak said he would prefer Ms Truss, as he called for the country to “move forward”.

But said she would rather Mr Johnson had the top job, which drew loud applause and cheers from the audience.

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Mr Sunak also said he would prefer to “take the stairs” than be stuck in a lift with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer or Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

But Ms Truss said she would pick Ms Sturgeon in that scenario, as the idea of being trapped with the Labour leader was “extremely boring”.

Elsewhere, Mr Sunak took aim at “woke-ish ideology”, pledging to tackle “lefty woke culture” and never let “political correctness” get in the way of people’s safety.

Asked if the BBC had a Tory or Labour bias, or if it was neutral, he said: “There’s no woke bias option in there.”

Ms Truss said anyone who believed the BBC was impartial was “kidding” themselves, and that she preferred “honest bias” to the pretence of neutrality.

Earlier, Mr Sunak said he would vote for the tax-cutting plans put forward by Ms Truss, despite previously calling them a “moral failure”.

Everything you need to know about Rishi Sunak - video

He has used the contest to fiercely criticise his rival’s economic strategy, but appeared to relent by admitting that if defeated he would back an emergency budget put forward by Ms Truss.

Mr Sunak told BBC Radio 4 that he would not leave politics if, as expected, he was defeated in the Tory leadership contest in less than two weeks.

During a visit to a factory near Norwich before Thursday’s hustings, Ms Truss hinted at more action down the line to ease the burden of mounting prices.

She said cutting taxes and boosting energy supply were the keys to addressing the surging cost of living.

Ms Truss said that if she was elected, her chancellor would look at “what else needs to be done” in a future budget.

As the Tory leadership contest enters its final stages, calls are growing for urgent government action to support households through what is predicted to be a difficult winter.

Supply issues linked to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are one reason behind rapidly rising power bills, with recent warnings suggesting the average amount UK households pay for their gas and electricity could reach £6,000 next year.

Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi on Wednesday said “nothing is off the table” when it came to action on soaring energy bills, and that a freeze in the price cap would not deliver “targeted help” for those who need it most.

Everything you need to know about Liz Truss - video

Labour has called on both Tory leadership candidates to increase the windfall tax on oil and gas companies if they become prime minister, as the cap is set to rise again.

Energy regulator Ofgem is set to announce the autumn price cap for energy bills on Friday.

At the Norwich hustings, Mr Sunak said he would also look at more support for businesses hit with soaring energy costs.

Asked what help he would give them, as they do not benefit from a price cap, he said: “That’s clearly something that the new prime minister will have to look at.

"I’ll have to look at it and I’m happy to do so and would do so.”

Updated: August 26, 2022, 8:17 AM