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Rishi Sunak admits he’s falling behind in race to be UK PM

The former Chancellor of the Exchequer admitted his pledge not to cut personal taxes until inflation is under control was not universally popular, telling Conservative members at the first official hustings event: “Even though it hasn’t made my life easy, it is the honest thing to do.”

July 29, 2022 / 09:00 AM IST

Rishi Sunak conceded he was the underdog in the race to be the next Conservative Party leader and UK prime minister, but vowed to fight for every vote.


The former Chancellor of the Exchequer admitted his pledge not to cut personal taxes until inflation is under control was not universally popular, telling Conservative members at the first official hustings event: “Even though it hasn’t made my life easy, it is the honest thing to do.”


His rival, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss -- who has vowed to cut taxes as soon as she takes office -- appeared to enjoy a warmer reception at the gathering in Leeds, northeast England, on Thursday night. Truss promised a “complete review” of Britain’s tax system, saying it was “too complicated” and must be fair for families.


Truss was also given a major boost when Defence Secretary Ben Wallace declared he was backing her for prime minister, telling The Sun newspaper that Sunak was wrong to walk out of the cabinet and trigger Johnson’s downfall.


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Sunak is trying to make inroads into Truss’s wide polling lead among Tory party members as he bids to succeed Boris Johnson as prime minister. The pair are embarking on a series of hustings across the UK over the summer in an attempt to secure the votes of roughly 175,000 party members, before the winner is announced Sept. 5.


“I know the polls say I’m behind in this race,” Sunak said in his opening pitch. “I’m asking for all of your support. And I promise you, I am going to fight for every single vote.”


In a thinly-veiled dig at Truss, he warned that unfunded tax cuts were “not responsible and certainly not Conservative.”


But Truss said now was “not the time for business as usual.” She underlined her pledges to reverse a hike in national insurance and to keep corporation tax “low,” and she won applause for promising to deliver a key rail project in northern England, known as Northern Powerhouse Rail.


Also in the hustings event:


  • Truss said she did not back windfall taxes on energy companies because “they put off future investment” -- but was not asked if she would reverse the current energy profits levy

  • Sunak declined to give a target for the percentage of GDP that the UK should spend on defence, saying only he would “spend whatever it takes to keep our country safe”

  • Truss said that if she was prime minister, she would “deliver a victory for the Conservatives in 2024” -- a hint at the date of the next general election which must take place before January 2025
Bloomberg
first published: Jul 29, 2022 09:00 am
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