Both Tory leadership contenders faced a wide range of questions at the first official hustings with Tory members in Leeds.
Broadcast by LBC and hosted by Nick Ferrari it was the first of 12 official hustings for party members across the country to put their questions to the final two candidates before voting for the next party leader and Prime Minister closes on September 2.
Both Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss were introduced to the stage by supportive MPs, with Conservative former minister David Davis opening for Mr Sunak and Education Secretary James Cleverly introducing Ms Truss.
Here are the key points raised during the two-hour hustings.
– Some Conservative party members showed their support for Boris Johnson being added to the ballot
Parts of the audience clapped when the host mentioned support for Boris Johnson being added to the ballot paper for the leadership.
Mr Ferrari referenced reports that around 14,000 members of the Conservative Party wanted Mr Johnson’s name on the ballot, pausing as clapping and some cheers were audible from some in the audience.
Asked what he would say to those members, Mr Sunak said: “I’d say to them that I think close to 60 people resigned in Parliament and it’s incumbent on the Prime Minister to have the confidence of the parliamentary party, and that wasn’t there at the end.
“So whether he’s on the ballot or not, ultimately you need to be able to command the confidence of your MPs in Parliament, and we got to a point where close to 60 of them had resigned from Government.”
– Tax continued to be a significant dividing line between the two
Mr Sunak told the hustings: “I will grip inflation and get it back down. We will also help people with the cost of living, energy bills this autumn, which is why we will cut VAT on fuel.
“But what I won’t do is embark on a spree borrowing tens and tens of billions of pounds of unfunded promises and put them on the country’s credit card, and pass them on to our children and our grandchildren to pick up the tab.
“That’s not right. That’s not responsible, and it’s certainly not Conservative. But of course, once we grip inflation and ensure that mortgage rates don’t rise and cripple people, I’m going to cut taxes.”
Meanwhile Ms Truss criticised windfall taxes – something Mr Sunak imposed as a one-off on energy companies as chancellor.
Ms Truss said: “I don’t believe in windfall taxes, because they put off future investment. What we should be doing is encouraging Shell and other companies to invest in the United Kingdom, because we need to get our productivity up, we need capital investment.
“What I would do is create low tax investment zones, encouraging those companies to invest in our country.
“I think windfall taxes send the wrong message to the world. They don’t send the message that Britain is open for business. And actually what we need to be doing now is using more of our North Sea reserves to help people with the cost of living, and that’s what I would do alongside having a temporary moratorium on the green energy levy to really help people with their bills.”
– Ms Truss avoided being pinned down on potential changes to inheritance tax
Asked what she would do about inheritance tax, Ms Truss said: “I think our tax system in Britain isn’t working. It’s too complicated. It’s even more complicated than the American tax system which we know is a nightmare.
“So what I would do is have a complete review of the tax system. I want to make it fairer for families, so if people take time out of work to look after children or elderly relatives they are not penalised. And I would also look at inheritance tax as part of that review.”
Pushed on what she meant by “look at”, Ms Truss said: “I mean I’d look at the overall tax system in the round and make sure it’s fair. And my view of fairness is we need to reward people who do the right thing, who work hard, who set up businesses, who earn money, and who want to pass it on to their children. So I would look at it again, but I need to look at it in the round.”
– Mr Sunak denied his plans to remove VAT on energy was a U-turn
He was asked: “Last week it was unconservative, now it’s a policy, are you flipping and flopping?”
He said: “Oh gosh no. Definitely not.”
“Now, as you can see in the news, people’s expectations of what will happen to energy bills in the autumn has gone up. And so it’s reasonable that there is more than we can do. And that is the policy that I would put in place if I was elected PM. But that is a temporary and time-limited support,” he said.
He added: “What’s unconservative is permanent unfunded tax cuts. There is a big difference between things that are temporary to help a short-term problem and permanently borrowing £40 billion, £50 billion every year and not paying for that.”
– Ms Truss watched ITV’s Love Island and was “horrified”
Ms Truss said: “I watched it for 10 minutes with my teenage daughter and I was completely horrified and I turned it off.”
– Rishi Sunak backed grammar schools
Asked if he would “support the return of grammar schools”, Mr Sunak said: “Yes.”
He added: “I believe in educational excellence, I believe education is the most powerful way we can transform people’s lives. But I also think there’s lots we can do with the school system as we have it.
“Now what Michael Gove did several years ago was transformative. And Michael took on some vested interests, challenged consensus, brought in some reforms that mean that millions of our children now are better off.
“But that’s a Conservative way to do it. It’s not about throwing more money at the problem, it’s about reforming the system to get better outcomes. And that’s what I would do with education as well.”
It is understood Mr Sunak supports existing grammar schools expanding in local areas.
– Ms Truss said she would return the whips’ office to No 12 Downing Street
Asked about the Owen Paterson affair and effectively voting to rework rules to support the then Tory MP, Ms Truss said it was a “mistake”, adding: “No, I wouldn’t do it again if I had my time again.
“And what we know is there is a real need to improve discipline in the Conservative Party, but also to support the welfare of our MPs.”
She added: “I want to support our MPs more. But also I want to make sure that when there is a problem we deal with it early and we deal with it quickly. And one of the things I would do as prime minister is move the whips’ office back into Number 12 Downing Street.
“They were moved out of Number 12 Downing Street by Alastair Campbell, and replaced by the press office, which shows the priorities of the Blair government.
“But we need to show that parliamentary democracy is what matters to us, and MPs who are important, and we need that restoration of standards, discipline but also support.”
– Mr Sunak said he would not support relocating the House of Lords
He said: “I don’t think it makes sense for the practical operation of government for us to be separated.”