Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak make their pitches in Belfast
Tory leadership candidate Liz Truss said she expects to see powersharing re-established in Northern Ireland as her protocol Bill progresses through Parliament.
Asked by a party member at a hustings in Belfast today, the Foreign Secretary said: “Until we sort the issue of the Northern Ireland Protocol out we are not going to get Stormont back up and running.
“And I’ve been in discussions with all of the parties in Northern Ireland, I’m determined to make it happen.
“And as we make progress on the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill we will see powersharing re-established in Northern Ireland, and as well the Belfast Good Friday Agreement re-established.”
'No compromise on a renegotiated Protocol'
Liz Truss said she would not accept any compromises on a renegotiated Northern Ireland Protocol as prime minister if it meant key UK demands were not met.
Asked what compromises she would accept at a Tory leadership hustings in Belfast, she said: “I will not accept anything that does not deliver on the key issues I talked about.”
She emphasised the need to make sure “UK courts are the ultimate arbiter”, that east-west trade is “free flowing”, and that people in Northern Ireland “can benefit from the tax benefits delivered by the UK Government”.
Asked about the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill’s passage through Parliament, Ms Truss said: “It might take time to get this Bill through the House of Lords, but the sooner we start, the sooner we will finish, and I am determined to get it done as quickly as possible.
“What I expect is the House of Lords will see the fact that this Bill has got a strong mandate from the House of Commons and they will understand that this is a priority for the Government to deliver.”
'We will not bow to international pressure'
Liz Truss said she will be “very clear” with US House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The Foreign Secretary was asked by a Tory member to reassure the party that she would not bow to pressure from the EU, the Republic of Ireland and the US over post-Brexit measures.
She replied: “I took on responsibility for negotiating the Northern Ireland Protocol, and against a lot of the advice in Whitehall and against of the wishes of some of the people you’ve mentioned, and I will be very clear with people like Nancy Pelosi exactly what I think about this and exactly what we need to do. I have got on with delivering this.”
She added that the Bill is “absolutely legal”.
Liz Truss rejected the idea that the people of Northern Ireland should have a say on banning abortion.
A member of the audience claimed Westminster had “undemocratically and unconstitutionally imposed abortion on Northern Ireland” and asked whether she would abolish abortion or let the people decide if she became prime minister.
Ms Truss was applauded as she replied: “I’m afraid I don’t agree with you.
“We are a United Kingdom and we need all of our laws to apply right across the United Kingdom. That is what being a union is.”
New secretary of state?
The leadership candidate also said she would appoint a secretary of state for Northern Ireland who would be “the absolute best at delivering for the people”.
Asked whether she would appoint “another fly-in, fly-out political landlord” instead of someone who is “accountable to the electorate”.
Ms Truss replied: “I don’t want to be premature, we’re still in the middle of this leadership race.
“And what I can assure you about everybody I would appoint in the cabinet is it will be based on how good they are at doing the job and whether they get things done.
“I will make sure the person in that job is the absolute best at delivering for the people of Northern Ireland.”
Rishi Sunak has accused his leadership rival Liz Truss of setting up a “moral failure” if she does not support the most vulnerable through the cost-of-living crisis.
At the Tory hustings in Belfast, the former chancellor said: “The most important issue facing our country in the short term is how are we going to get through this winter. I think millions of people are at risk of a very tough time and I’ve been very clear that my plan is to support them.
“I believe that we have to support vulnerable groups, those on low incomes and pensioners, directly with financial support, because a tax cut does not work for those people.
“Liz’s plan is to say ‘well, I believe in tax cuts, not direct support’. I don’t think that’s right because a tax cut for someone on her salary means £1,700 of help. For someone working really hard on a national living wage, in the care sector, that tax cut is worth about a £1 a week. For a pensioner, who is not working, that tax cut is worth precisely zero.
“That’s not a plan that I think is right for our country.
“If we don’t directly help those vulnerable groups, those on the lowest incomes, those pensioners, then it will be a moral failure of the Conservative government and I don’t think the British people will forgive us for that.”
Mr Sunak has said he would seek to reform the energy market if made prime minister, in order to provide consumers with cheaper prices not tied to natural gas.
Asked what further support he would provide to businesses with energy costs, Mr Sunak said: “Part of the reason is it gets passed through, so the reason inflation that all of us are seeing is, as of this morning, 10% is because businesses largely pass on the prices through. That is how a market economy works and the most effective thing for us to do is help people.”
The former chancellor added there were some “major reforms we need to make to the energy market”, as currently the price of energy generated by renewable sources had been driven up alongside the spike in natural gas prices.
Mr Sunak said: “That is how our market works, it looks at who has got the highest price and, right now, because of a war it is natural gas, and we have to pay everyone else that price. That is not right and we need to reform our market to break that link.
“If we can do that, it will significantly lower wholesale electricity prices for all of the people that you spoke about and all of us.”
Liz Truss on green energy
Liz Truss said she would “immediately” reduce taxes and introduce a moratorium on the green energy levy in a bid to curb inflation in Northern Ireland if elected.
Speaking after a tour of Artemis Technologies in Belfast, Ms Truss moved to assure people that she would treat rising inflation as an “urgent issue” and ensure “it’s dealt with”.
“What I would do immediately is reduce taxes, reversing the NI increase, having a moratorium on the green energy levy to save people money on their fuel bills, and deal with the supply problem,” she said.
“We need to use more gas from our own resources here in this country. And we need to fix the energy problem by increasing supply.”
She added: “The green energy levy is on all bills, so by removing that we would save people money on their bills. But what won’t work is simply a sticking plaster of handing more money out without dealing with the root cause.
“And what I’m determined to do is deal with the root cause: make sure that we have energy security in this country.”
Pressed by reporters on whether she believes British workers are not working hard enough, Ms Truss replied: “What I believe is that we need more skills in our country, we need more capital investment in our country, we need more opportunity in our country. That is what I would deliver as prime minister.
“We need to help more people get into work. We have a number of people across the country who are currently economically inactive.
“What I want to do is help those people get into work and make sure we’re creating those high wage jobs in our economy, those high-skilled jobs. To do that, we need to attract investment in this country.”
She added : “I’m fundamentally on the side of people who work hard, who do the right thing. Those are the people I want back.”
Tory leadership contender Liz Truss has said she is “absolutely determined” to resolve the protocol issues and get the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill through Parliament.
She said: “That’s my commitment to the people of Northern Ireland. We need to restore the primacy of the Belfast Good Friday agreement. We need to sort out the issues on customs bureaucracy, making sure people in Northern Ireland can benefit from the same tax breaks as people in Great Britain.
“If the European Union are willing to come to a negotiated solution to achieve that, I would be absolutely willing to do that. But the bill will continue to go through Parliament. I want to get that bill through.”
She added that she is still “waiting to hear” from the EU as to “whether or not they’re willing to change the text”.
'Get back around the table' Truss tells Stormont parties
Ms Truss also told reporters she would be asking Stormont politicians to “get back around the table” in a bid to form a Government.
“I want to see the parties in Northern Ireland reform a government here,” she said.
“It’s important for the people of Northern Ireland. There are lots of challenges that need to be dealt with.
“We’ve been talking about cost of living, energy, we need a government in Northern Ireland to be doing that. So, I will be asking them to get back around the table and form a government.”