Frontrunning Conservative leadership aspirant Rishi Sunak has come under frontal attack from his rivals and prime minister Boris Johnson’s loyalists as the intra-party contest has hotted up.
Brexit opportunities minister Jacob Rees-Mogg accused the former chancellor of damaging the reputation of the ruling party with his mismanagement of the country’s economy and raising taxes to the “socialist” level.
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries claimed Sunak’s allies used “dirty tricks” in the leadership race as allegations emerged that his supporter Gavin Williamson was trying to ensure contender Jeremy Hunt would remain in the final round of the intra-party contest.
Both Rees-Mogg and Dorries have thrown their weight behind foreign secretary Liz Truss who is one of the eight candidates left in the fray after the first round of elimination.
Hunt, who is seeking to head the party after having lost to Johnson in the previous Tory leadership race in 2019, blamed Sunak for the current economic headwinds and the potential contraction in growth.
He said Sunak left Britain “heading into recession, and we’ll be there for too long”.
“The thing that struck me was this slashing of the growth forecast for next year,” he told LBC radio.
Tom Tugendhat, who has also thrown his hat into the ring, criticised Sunak for not promising an increase in defence spending in the face of security threats Europe is facing following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Putin’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine shows we face the most severe national security threats of a generation. A sudden u-turn on defence spending would undermine our credibility in NATO,” he said.
Sunak, however, declined to make “fairy tale” promises, saying it was “not credible to promise lots more spending and lower taxes”.
He also refused to criticise Johnson whom he described as “one of the most remarkable people I’ve met”.
“Whatever some commentators may say, he has a good heart,” Sunak said.