Fiscal prudence! Sunak supporters lash out at Tory leadership challengers over tax cuts

Rishi Sunak announces Conservative Party leadership bid

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Rishi Sunak currently leads the pack in the race to succeed Boris Johnson as Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister. The ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, who heaped pressure on Mr Johnson to quit by resigning from Number 11 last week, has received the backing of 38 Tory MPs. However, Mr Sunak faced criticism from other leadership contenders over his plan to address the UK’s economic woes.

The Brexit-backing Richmond MP has claimed the Government cannot afford to lull voters about the economic difficulties ahead with “comforting fairytales”.

Mr Sunak said: “Do we confront this moment with honesty, seriousness and determination, or do we tell ourselves comforting fairytales that might make us feel better in the moment but will leave our children worse off tomorrow?”

In contrast, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss vowed to axe the National Insurance increase and cut taxes “from day one” to help alleviate the pressures of the cost of living crisis.

Ms Truss’ leading backer Kwasi Kwarteng directly locked horns with Mr Sunak over taxation.

The Business Secretary said: “We can’t simply be accountants trying to balance the books the whole time.”

Former Health Secretaries Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt went as far as to pledge to bring corporation tax down to 15 percent, in a move which would reverse Mr Sunak’s scheduled rise from 19 to 25 percent.

Despite facing pressure from tax-cutting Conservative challengers, Mr Sunak’s allies have defended his plan and claimed it demonstrates the ex-Chancellor’s “fiscal prudence”.

Former parliamentary private secretary for the Department for Levelling Up Jacob Young told Express.co.uk: “The United Kingdom stands at a critical juncture.

“The world is becoming an increasingly unpredictable place, global inflation is on the rise, and add to that the fact that the UK borrowed more than £400billion during the pandemic, now is the time for fiscal prudence.

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“That is why I believe Rishi Sunak has offered the economic plan that this country needs.”

In a broadside shot at Mr Sunak’s challengers, the Redcar MP added: “We’ve heard promises of tax cuts but if you’re going to promise tax cuts, you have to say which service or investment programme are you going to cut to pay for it?

“If you don’t cut spending, the only other place the Government can get money from is by borrowing.

“But given the state of global finances and the current cost of borrowing, neither of these options make any sense.

“We have to be honest with the British people, not just tell them what they want to hear.”

However, issues over tax have already reduced the 2022 Tory leadership contest to a mud-slinging match after an anti-Sunak 424-word dossier circulated around Westminster.

The document described Mr Sunak as a “schoolboy”, a “liar” and even claimed “there is nothing Conservative” about the frontrunner’s economic agenda.

Brexit Opportunities Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg, a loyal supporter of Mr Johnson, echoed such criticisms and accused Mr Sunak of pursuing policies which were “all about the big state”.

The ex-Chancellor’s leadership bid faced other problems over the weekend after a video resurfaced showing a 21-years-old Sunak saying he does not have working-class friends and he was forced to deny links with Mr Johnson’s Brexit-backing ex-Number 10 adviser Dominic Cummings.

However, with allies of Mr Johnson reportedly set to declare for Mr Truss later today, Mr Sunak is anticipated to pledge he will reduce the tax burden after “steering this country through these economic headwinds” if elected Prime Minister.

Mr Young, who was elected as Redcar’s first-ever Tory MP in 2019, also defended Mr Sunak over what he described as “misleading” claims.

He said: “As Chancellor, Rishi was at the helm of the nation’s finances during the most challenging circumstances in recent memory.

“When the economy ground to a halt with lockdowns, Rishi did what was necessary to support millions of families, businesses and services.

“That meant spending huge sums of money we otherwise never would have.

“It is both unfair and frankly misleading to characterise Rishi as having been a ‘big tax, big spend’ Chancellor.

“These were unusual times and the Treasury’s response was equally unusual to match.”

Mr Young is instead convinced the ex-Chancellor, who is considered an asset in the ‘Red Wall’ due to his support for Teesside’s post-Brexit freeport, can unite the Conservative Party as he has the “determination, instinct and strength of character to lead the country forward”.

However, Mr Young’s intervention came just hours after ex-Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick took aim at Conservative leadership challengers and defended Mr Sunak’s “economically literate” plan.

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The Newark MP told GB News: “I think he’s got the best plan to grow the economy in the years ahead, get taxes down over time but do so in a way which is credible and can ensure that we also don’t allow borrowing to get out of control.”

Mr Jenrick, who backed Mr Johnson for the Tory leadership in 2019, added: “He is a tax-cutting Conservative but he wants to do so with a real plan, he doesn’t want to make up unfunded promises and make them up off the hoof.”

There are also concerns tax cuts could add a further spike to inflation just weeks after the Office for National Statistics revealed the consumer price index reached 9.1 percent in May.

According to an opinion poll of 493 Conservative Party members conducted for Channel 4, Mr Sunak is the frontrunner to win the ongoing leadership contest with a four-point head-to-head lead over Ms Truss.

A separate survey by JL Partners also found Mr Sunak was the best-placed candidate to take on Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour Party.

The Richmond MP opened up a narrow one-point lead over the Labour leader, making him the only Conservative candidate currently ahead of Sir Keir.

However, supporters of the Foreign Secretary are convinced Ms Truss can offer Brits the help needed to deal with the cost of living crisis.

An ally of Ms Truss, who suggested the “no-nonsense” South West Norfolk MP was best-equipped to take on Labour’s “woolly” leader, told Express.co.uk: “She has ideas to address the cost of living crisis and potential recession that will actually work.

“The world faces real challenges on that front and she can lead on the world stage in addressing them, unlike any other candidate.”

Despite emerging as a potential favourite, Mr Sunak still faces a challenge from a crowded field as Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt, Tonbridge & Malling MP Tom Tugendhat, recently-appointed Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi, ex-Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch, Attorney General Suella Braverman, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and Gillingham & Rainham MP Rehman Chishti joined Ms Truss, Mr Hunt and Mr Javid in the race for Number 10.

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