Conservative leadership candidate Rishi Sunak accused former cabinet colleagues of having a “pink-colored” view of the last days of Boris Johnson’s rule as he defended his plans to cut the income tax.
The former chancellor is struggling to regain ground on rival Liz Truss as the pair enter a pivotal week in the leadership race. The 160,000 Conservative members will receive their ballots this week, with some able to submit their votes from Monday, as the couple prepares for their second husting event, in Exeter on Monday evening.
On Monday morning, Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi became the last senior minister to back Mr Truss after Defense Secretary Ben Wallace last week and former Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis on Sunday.
With early polls of Conservative members showing Ms. Truss comfortably ahead, some commentators blamed Sunak’s decision to leave Johnson’s cabinet amid concerns about “a very serious ethical issue” and a disagreement over economic policy, which has triggered the downfall of the Prime Minister last month.
But speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today program, Mr. Sunak said: “I think there is a risk that people will look at the last few months of the government with slightly pink tinted glasses about what it really was like, because it wasn’t working like. it should and crucially, the government found itself on the wrong side of a very serious ethical issue.
“For me too I am taking the wrong economic path. This is why in the end more than 60 parliamentarians eventually counted, I believe, resigned from the government, of which I, after many deliberations and months alongside the premier, was one of them.
“If people want to have rose-tinted glasses on what was going on with the government, it’s up to them, but they have to acknowledge it.”
In a last ditch effort to win over party loyalists before they start voting, Mr. Sunak attempted to shake off his image as a former scapegoating chancellor by promising “the biggest income tax cut by Margaret Thatcher’s government.”
He promised to reduce the base rate from 20% to 16% within seven years if he becomes prime minister, in a move immediately branded a “flip-flop” by Ms. Truss’ allies after weeks of labeling his tax plans. radical cuts like “comforting tales”.
Sunak’s plan builds on the previously announced 1p cut in income tax in April 2024, with the additional 3p to be cut based on economic growth to finance it, a move that could cost as much as £ 19bn.
The former chancellor denied making another U-turn on taxes – less than a week after announcing he would introduce a temporary VAT cut on energy bills to help ease the cost of living crisis, a move that his critics claimed to have resisted while running the Treasury.
Asked if the tax cut plan was an attempt to catch up on Ms Truss, she told the BBC: “No, definitely not. This is entirely consistent with what I have been saying for a long time.
“And that is why as Chancellor I have already drawn up a plan to cut income taxes in this Parliament. The first penny off the base rate in nearly 15 years was something I announced as Chancellor. But what I’m talking about today is my desire to go beyond time, and people should know that’s where I want to take the economy. “
He also rejected a passage from Mr. Zahawi, who wrote in the Telegraph, that Ms. Truss would overturn a “stale economic orthodoxy” in the Treasury and “run our economy conservatively.
“I was on the side of rejecting it [the orthodoxy] in the pandemic, “he said.” What people saw from me was that I tore up the regulation, did something that had never been done before in this country and created the leave scheme. It was absolutely not a ‘ Orthodoxy about it. It has worked. It has saved the work of millions of people and I am proud to have done it.
“And actually, when it comes to corporate taxation, as you said, it’s my opponent in this context, who wants to stick with the failed orthodoxy of having these ultra-low corporate tax rates.”
In a further blow to his opponent, who has pledged to delay a large corporate tax hike from next year if he wins the Downing Street race, as well as scrapping the national insurance hike, Mr. Sunak said: “I don’t think it would be wise to embark on an over-indebtedness madness at a time when inflation and interest rates are already on the rise. I think everyone understands that it’s a point of differentiation between us, but we also need to look beyond. this is what I want to give people an idea of where I want to take the economy once we have a grasp of inflation. “
But Chief Treasury Secretary Simon Clarke, who supports Ms. Truss, rounded up Mr. Sunak’s tax plans by saying, “Liz will cut taxes in seven weeks, not seven years.”
A source from Truss’s campaign added: “It’s just a shame he didn’t do it as Chancellor when he repeatedly raised taxes.
“He’s also made getting first conditional on growth, knowing full well that his corporate tax hikes are against it.
“The public and Conservative Party members can see through these flip flops and U-turns.”