Sunak tries to close gap with rival in British leadership race


LONDON (TBEN) — Rishi Sunak, one of two contenders to replace British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, on Monday defended his decision to leave the government and end Johnson’s scandal-ravaged leadership.

Johnson’s allies have accused Sunak of treason after he resigned as head of the UK’s Treasury last month while the government struggled with a letter of resignation amid ethical scandals saying “we can’t go on like this”. More than 50 ministers resigned, leaving Johnson with no choice but to resign as leader of the Conservative Party.

Polls by conservative members put Foreign Secretary Liz Truss ahead of Sunak in the race to replace Johnson as party leader. The mailed ballots arrived Monday at the homes of about 180,000 party members who will determine the winner. The new leader will be announced on September 5 and will automatically become prime minister.

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Sunak said his critics “looked at the last few months of the government through rose-colored glasses”. He said that “the government was on the wrong side of a very serious ethical issue.”

Johnson led the Conservatives to an overwhelming parliamentary majority in 2019, but he has since been plagued by scandal and has been fined by the police for parties violating the COVID-19 lockdown rules. He clung to power for months, but finally quit on July 7 after a scandal too many – the appointment of a politician accused of sexual misconduct – prompted his ministers to resign en masse.

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Sunak walks like an experienced minister who can steer the country through the economic turbulence caused by the pandemic and war in Ukraine. He was the candidate of choice among Tory lawmakers reducing the number of candidates from the initial 11 contenders.

But Truss now seems to have more momentum and has gained the support of several leading lawmakers and cabinet ministers with her pledges to reduce taxes and government bureaucracy.

Sunak’s replacement as finance minister, Nadhim Zahawi, said he supported Truss because she offered a “booster” economic approach compared to “doomster” Sunak.

Sunak accuses Truss of peddling unrealistic promises, especially about the economy. Truss says she will immediately cut taxes to alleviate the cost of living crisis by financing it through borrowing. Sunak argues that it is essential to get inflation under control first.

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But on Monday, he promised a major income tax cut in the coming years, in what critics say was a reversal forced by the pressures of Truss’ campaign. Sunak said he would lower the basic income tax rate from 20% to 16% by 2029.

“I want to make sure we can afford it, I want to make sure we can do it alongside the growth of the economy,” he said.


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