Northern Ireland news

Rishi Sunak attacks Liz Truss's tax plans as 10.1% inflation adds to cost-of-living crisis

Tory leadership candidates Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak. Picture by PA/PA Wire
Sam Blewett and David Lynch, PA Political Staff

Rishi Sunak has stepped up his attacks on Tory leadership rival Liz Truss’s tax plans, warning millions face a “very tough time” this winter without direct support.

The former chancellor said the Foreign Secretary would be guilty of “moral failure” if she does not focus on the most vulnerable, as the cost-of-living crisis deepened on Wednesday.

Ms Truss instead insisted “taxes are too high and they are potentially choking off growth”, as she promised an emergency budget to tackle the emergency.

The clash in visions came as spiralling food prices and the cost of other essentials pushed inflation to a 40-year high.

The Office for National Statistics said the Consumer Prices Index measure of inflation hit 10.1% last month.

At a leadership hustings in Belfast this afternoon, Mr Sunak said steering the country through the winter as energy prices soar is the “most important” short-term issue.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

Someone on the national living wage would get a tax cut of £1 a week, he said, while it is worth “precisely zero” for a pensioner who is not working.

“That’s not a plan that I think is right for our country,” Mr Sunak said.

“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.”

Ms Truss alleged that less revenue would be raised for the public purse if taxation remains too high because businesses are less likely to invest and people are less likely to set up businesses or “go into work”.

“I think we have got to the stage in our economy where taxes are too high and they are potentially choking off growth,” the frontrunner in the race told Tory members.

During the Northern Ireland leg of the UK-wide battle for Downing Street, the contenders both faced questions on how they would get powersharing back up and running in Stormont.

The Democratic Unionist Party has refused to re-enter a devolved Executive in protest against the post-Brexit trading arrangements for goods crossing the Irish Sea.

Ms Truss said progress through Parliament on her controversial Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which would allegedly break international law, will “see powersharing re-established”.

She insisted the legislation is “absolutely legal” and vowed to be “very clear” with US House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi over the Northern Ireland Protocol, amid fears in Washington that the UK’s action threatens the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr Sunak said there is “probably not an enormous amount of disagreement” between the rivals on the subject, as he too backs the legislation.

But he said the Bill “will take time to pass” so he will negotiate with the EU, France and the Republic of Ireland to seek a swifter resolution if possible.

“If that negotiated outcome is there it will be far quicker than waiting for the Bill to pass, so it’s worth at least trying – but be in no doubt about my resolve to fix the situation with the protocol, which I think will unlock the powersharing and bring people back together,” he said.