By Enrique Rubio
London, Jul 25 (EFE).- Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, the two finalist candidates to succeed Boris Johnson as prime minister of the United Kingdom, on Monday engaged in a rough and tumble – and at times bitter – debate, interrupting one another numerous times and where their major differences proved to be their differing views on fiscal policy.
Despite the fact that the debate televised by the BBC ended up with both expressing their mutual admiration for one another, Truss – the foreign secretary – and Sunak, the ex-chancellor of the exchequer, placed their significant differences on assorted matters squarely on the table for the British public to evaluate.
Truss said that she and Sunak have a genuine and serious disagreement on taxes.
Britain’s top diplomat, who noted her disagreement with the Conservative Party’s decision to force Johnson’s resignation, enjoys an important advantage in the surveys of the 160,000 members of the Tory party who are being called to cast their ballots to select their new party leader, that person automatically becoming the new prime minister of the UK.
Given that situation, Sunak came out clearly on the attack, interrupting Truss on numerous occasions and discrediting her proposals and remarks, later being accused of “mansplaining” to her.
Even so, as the better orator, the former economy minister – whose July 5 resignation precipitated Johnson’s ouster – several times garnered applause from the audience, packed with Tory sympathizers in the English town of Stoke-on-Trent and who in the latest national election voted conservative for the first time in a generation.
Despite all this, Truss did not lose her composure, defended her stances and record tenaciously and launched assorted poisoned barbs at her rival. Early polls of the debate results show the pair to have emerged tied among the Tory public.
Right from the start of the fray, the pair’s differences on taxes became apparent as they joined in the on-stage battle.
Sunak pointedly asked Truss whether the public should pay the pandemic bill themselves or, in effect, put it on a credit card to be paid for by the current generation’s children and grandchildren.
“It’s not moral to pass on the tab to our children for bills we aren’t prepared to pay,” Sunak said. “I don’t think it’s right, I don’t think it’s responsible, and it’s certainly not Conservative.”
The foreign minister emphasized that her aim would be to start to pay down the pandemic debt within three years.
The Hindu former top economic official said that Truss’s own economic adviser had admitted that paying off that debt would raise interest rates to 7 percent and urging people to think what that would mean for all Britons who are currently paying a mortgage, whereupon Truss replied that “Crashing the economy to pay the debt back quicker is a massive mistake.”
Sunak used Truss’s past shifts in opinion to try break her stride, especially in reference to Brexit, which she had initially opposed but later backed.
The former chancellor of the exchequer, the official in charge of the British economy, was an old ally of Johnson, and had backed Brexit all along the way, although Truss rejoined that she had learned over time and that if Britons were to be asked to vote on Brexit now she would cast her ballot to leave the European Union.
Sunak also referred to Truss’s past remarks about China, saying that she had said Britain would experience a “golden age” in relations with Beijing, although Truss responded that she had said that “10 years ago” and adding that just a month ago her rival had proposed mending relations with the Asian giant.
In other areas like Britain’s position vis-a-vis Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, the pair found more points of agreement, including ruling out any direct UK involvement in the war.
When asked by the moderator whether they would offer Johnson a post in their prospective governments, Truss argued that he will not want to be part of her administration although he would continue to have a powerful voice in Tory politics, while Sunak completely closed the door on his old boss, praising Johnson but going on to say that Britain needs a new leader who adheres to his principles, to which the audience applauded.
Truss, in turn, said that restoring confidence in the British government means keeping one’s promises, noting that when the Tories were elected they promised not to raise taxes but taxes have nevertheless been hiked. She went on to say that she was someone who keeps her promises, contrasting her stance with that of Sunak, who was largely responsible for the tax hikes.
Tory members will vote by mail during the month of August and the winner will be announced on Sept. 5. One day later, Johnson will present his official resignation to Queen Elizabeth II, who will then task the new Conservative Party leader with forming a new government.