Sky News cancels Tory leadership debate as Sunak and Truss pull out
Team Truss argued they were focused on behind-closed-doors hustings to win the support of Conservative MPs, who are whittling down the contenders.
A statement from Sky News read: “Tuesday evening’s live television debate on Sky News between the Conservative Party leadership candidates has been cancelled.
“Two of the three candidates currently leading in the MPs’ ballots – Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss – have confirmed to Sky News that they do not want to take part.
“Conservative MPs are said to be concerned about the damage the debates are doing to the image of the Conservative Party, exposing disagreements and splits within the party.
“Both are very welcome to take part in future Sky News televised debates.”
The leadership contenders – Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss, Penny Mordaunt, Tom Tugendhat and Kemi Badenoch – have already taken part in debates on Channel 4 and ITV which have seen the would-be prime ministers taking primetime pot shots at each other.
Ms Mordaunt’s record in office came in for further attack from International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan on LBC Radio on Monday morning.
Asked about Ms Mordaunt’s grasp of details, Ms Trevelyan said: “We all do our jobs in different ways.
“Understandably, perhaps, now it’s clear, Penny has for the last few months spent some of her time focused on preparing her leadership campaign, for which I have utmost respect, that’s how this system works.”
Ms Trevelyan told LBC Radio: “There have been a number of times when she hasn’t been available, which would have been useful, and other ministers have picked up the pieces.”
The contenders for the Tory leadership will be whittled down to just four as MPs cast their votes in the third round of the contest to find a successor to Boris Johnson.
Mr Tugendhat had fewer votes than his remaining rivals in the last ballot on Thursday and he would seem to be in the most jeopardy this time round.
Ms Trevelyan said she hopes he will get another chance to run for the leadership if he fails in this attempt.
“He has this extraordinary ability to bring people together to work with him who would not otherwise work together,” she said.
“I think it’s a genuine gift and I wanted the rest of the world to see much more of it.
“If this isn’t his time, I hope that there will be a future time when he can lead the party.”
Cabinet minister Kit Malthouse said he expects the Tories to pull together in a “spirit of harmony and love” after the leadership battle.
“All political parties are standing coalitions and the Conservative Party is the same,” he told Sky News.
“A vigorous exchange of ideas, in what is a challenging time for the country, should be expected when you are talking about such important issues and the leadership of a G7 nation.
“If it was just a polite agreement and consensus across the board, there wouldn’t be much point in having a competition at all.”
Mr Malthouse has not publicly declared his support for any of the candidates to succeed Mr Johnson.
A series of votes among Tory MPs this week will narrow the field down to a final two, who will then face a summer of campaigning for the support of party members in a final vote.
The new leader will be announced on September 5 and is expected to become prime minister the following day.
Mr Sunak said that if he is successful his first foreign trip would be to Kyiv to stress the UK’s continued support for Ukraine in its fight against the Russian invasion.
He told The Sun: “I will reinforce our policy of total support for Ukraine that Boris has so ably led.”
But Ms Mordaunt said her campaign had the support of 10 Ukrainian MPs.
Meanwhile, Ms Truss seized on analysis by the Centre for Economics and Business Research which suggested that tax revenues in 2024/25 will be around £60 billion more than the Office for Budget Responsibility estimates, partly due to the impact of high inflation.
A spokeswoman for Ms Truss said: “The CEBR analysis shows that there is money for tax cuts whilst still bringing debt down.”
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