Tory leadership debate live: Four candidates refuse to say if Boris Johnson is honest

Kemi Badenoch Penny Mordaunt Rishi Sunak Liz Truss Tom Tugendhat - Victoria Jones/PA Wire
Kemi Badenoch Penny Mordaunt Rishi Sunak Liz Truss Tom Tugendhat - Victoria Jones/PA Wire

Four out of the five Conservative leadership candidates refused to say whether Boris Johnson is honest.

Former chancellor Rishi Sunak is taking on Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, surprise frontrunner Penny Mordaunt and backbenchers Kemi Badenoch and Tom Tugendhat.

Only Mr Tugendhat responded "no", while Ms Badenoch responded: "Sometimes."

In far lengthier answers, Ms Mordaunt said there had been "severe issues" but Mr Johnson deserved "some credit", Ms Truss flagged his "mistakes" as well as a "huge range of achievements" and Mr Sunak said "trust and honesty came into" his resignation.

An earlier hustings organised by the ConservativeHome website proved largely uneventful and light on policy, with candidates playing it safe before tonight’s showdown.

But after a week dominated by Ms Mordaunt's surprise momentum, as Mr Sunak and Ms Truss seek to play catch-up, we can expect a more eventful hour-and-a-half.

08:14 PM

'There are many things we can do' on the economy

Kemi Badenoch says she could not cope looking after her father, who died earlier this year, and says social care jobs need to be treated with "more respect and more prestige".

"The point about cutting the public sector is that you don't necessarily have to do that if you have growth. The argument about tax cuts often sounds like we're talking about tax cuts for our own sake. That is not why we have them. It is so people can keep more of their money."

Penny Mordaunt adds her own economic plan is not based on tax and spend, but "growth and competition".

"There are lots of things we can do to alleviate the pressures in health and social care. For GPs and dentists if we had a centralised list, when someone doesn't show up for an appointment - of which there are millions - people could just draw down on that list."

But how would Ms Mordaunt grow the economy? "There are many things we can do. And that is what is going to deliver the Brexit dividend for us. We have to tackle the barriers to investment coming in. Many, many things and that really needs supply side reforms."

08:11 PM

Rishi Sunak accuses Liz Truss of 'fairytale' economics

Rishi Sunak: "There isn't a more important public service than the NHS to this country. It was not acceptable to me not to fund the NHS, the amazing doctors and nurses we have, to help get treatments done.

"Even though it was politically inconvenient for me, even though I'm now getting attacked for it and many people up here want to reverse it..." Mr Sunak goes on to take aim at Liz Truss: "There is no such thing as Covid debt, debt is debt. Inflation is the enemy that makes everybody poorer." He says an "unfunded spree of borrowing and more debt" will only worsen inflation.

Ms Truss responds inflation exists because of monetary policy - "we haven't been tough enough on monetary supply". But Mr Sunak says: "Borrowing your way out of inflation isn't a plan, it is a fairytale."

08:08 PM

'We all feel the squeeze'

Question three: Will tax cuts come at the expense of public services?

Tom Tugendhat responds that it is an "important question" and says "we all feel the squeeze" amid 70-year highs in taxes. "The state is taking more and more of what you earn and as a conservative I'd like to keep more of that. But public services are essential to all of us. What we need to do is make sure public services are there with you and we need to push power out from the centre and out into the regions."

His priority, he says, is reintroducing the four-hour A&E time "and holding the NHS to account for delivering it".

Liz Truss weighs in: "It is wrong to be putting up National Insurance, it is wrong to be putting up green levies now. I understand how difficult it is for people across the country right now. And I would pay for that by spreading the debt we accumulated over Covid over a longer period."

She says it is "simply wrong that ordinary people are bearing the brunt of all of that cost of Covid so soon".

08:02 PM

Badenoch and Mordaunt clash over trans issue

Penny Mordaunt says people are "not comprehending" her position on transgender issues and says she has never been in favour of self-identification.

"I am a woman, I'm a biological woman, I am a biological woman in every cell in my body. And some people who are born male go through a process and are issued with a legal document of their new gender. But that does not make them exactly like me."

Kemi Badenoch responds she "finds it difficult" to believe Ms Mordaunt's account: "I don't understand how that [position] would have changed unless someone else did it in between. My understanding was the previous minister who had done the role wanted self-ID."

Liz Truss says she is "not going to go around and criticise" other candidates in the race, walking back on the previous minister's policy but caveating that she made the process "kinder".

07:56 PM

'We all know that's a problem'

Asked if there was a problem with a prime minister found to have broken the laws, Tom Tugendhat says: "We all know that's a problem. This isn't a secret I'm telling you, I'm afraid. It's clear and obvious.

"Everybody's talking about it because trust is what holds our families together, it holds our businesses and our lives together, frankly. Of course it matters, it really matters."

Pressed on breaking Covid laws, Rishi Sunak says: "I apologised for it at the time and I apologise for it again. I wish it never happened. The reason I was there in that Cabinet room minutes early is I was there every day working incredibly hard on Covid. I was in there every day in the same room, multiple times a day. And if I'm prime minister I will deliver the same type of dilligence and change."

Kemi Badenoch praises Mr Sunak's answer as "good enough": "I do think what he's said is right."

Asked if they trust politicians, not a single hand goes up in the studio audience.

07:54 PM

'We need a break from those Johnson years'

"What we need is a break from those Johnson years, but we need also a break in the way Government has been done," Tom Tugendhat says. "We need to make sure we can trust those we elect to serve us, we're not here to serve ourselves."

Rishi Sunak promises to "be honest" about the current economic crisis and provide a "responsible approach" to Government. "We can't pretend we can wish difficulties away. That's not how life works. We probably need to talk less and do more... But what you deserve is a Government that gets down to the hard work of competently, diligently delivering it."

Liz Truss vows "practical solutions" and to "run a Government that didn't overpromise but focused on delivery... I would also be open and honest and transparent. I think we need to talk across our Conservative Party more and across Parliament more. I think it's also about engagement in including everybody in those discussions. I'm not a cliquey person, I believe in meritocracy."

07:51 PM

'The basics' are most important, says Mordaunt

The second question: What will you do to ensure a clean break from Boris Johnson?

People want "the basics" to go right for them, such as being able to see a GP or a dentist, Penny Mordaunt says as she vows to "deliver on public services".

As well as promising being "truthful" about the issues facing the country, Kemi Badenoch says she would appoint people "because they were talented not because they were loyal... I would trust people who did not support me to work with me".

"Sometimes there was not enough trust in colleagues who had good criticisms that were not listened to."

07:47 PM

A yes/no question: Is Boris Johnson honest?

Kemi Badenoch: Sometimes.

Penny Mordaunt: I think he is somebody who... No, I'm not doing a yes or no because I think it would be wrong to do that. There have been some really severe issues and I think he has paid a price for that... We'll give him some credit.

Rishi Sunak: I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt for as long as possible. There were a number of reasons I resigned and trust and honesty came into that.

Liz Truss: He has been very clear himself that he made mistakes in Government. But he had a huge range of achievements, Brexit, dealing with Covid... He himself has said some of the statements were not 100 per cent accurate.

Tom Tugendhat: No.

07:45 PM

'Whoever wins, the country will be better off'

This is a "fantastic leadership race with brilliant people", insists Liz Truss. She describes her competitors as "fantastic colleagues and this shows the best of the Conservative Party".

Rishi Sunak adds he trusts "everybody on this panel... I'm privileged to be on this panel. Whoever wins this contest the country is going to be better off as a result." But Mr Sunak declines to say whether he would have all of his rivals serving in his Cabinet.

Britain's next PM debate
Britain's next PM debate

Tom Tugendhat says a "clean face... and a different look" is needed after the scandals of the Boris Johnson era. He calls for a Government "that's fresh, that's clean and ready to change the way we do Government in this country".

07:43 PM

Penny Mordaunt: 'Big fat compliment' no one wants to run against me

Unless we can get our country to "pull together, take a risk, set up our own business", the current crisis will not ease, warns Penny Mordaunt: "We are not going to be able to capitalise on all the opportunities that are there after we left after the EU."

Trust is a bond between "all of us" and Government must now step up and lead to help communities to help themselves, Ms Mordaunt adds.

"Why you can trust me is because I have spoken truth to power. I had the opportunity to serve at a higher office in this Government, and my answer to the Prime Minister was longer than the traditional one."

Responding to anonymous attacks on her in the newspapers today, she says: "We're all responsible for our own campaign and I take it as a big fat compliment no one wants to run against me. I would suggest to candidates they adopt [a positive] model."

07:41 PM

Kemi Badenoch: No one is saying what I am

Kemi Badenoch rejects the idea she should call a general election if she wins power.

"I've looked around the Government and thought no one is saying what I want to say. And I have things to say that need to be heard."

07:39 PM

Rishi Sunak: Enough was enough

Rishi Sunak says he always tried to give Boris Johnson the benefit of the doubt, "but I got to the point where enough was enough".

"It was clear that we had a big disagreement on [the economy] and I decided to resign and actually that's why they can trust me. I wanted to be honest with you and everyone else in the country about the challenges we face economically, with inflation, and be responsible about dealing with them, even if it wasn't politically convenient for me."

Mr Sunak says he is willing to say "very difficult things... even though lots of people attack me for it and that doesn't make my life any easier".

He adds he has had disagreements with Mr Johnson during his time in office, but cites breaking the Brexit deadlock, the furlough and vaccine schemes and the Ukraine response as achievements he remains proud of.

07:38 PM

Tom Tugendhat: Trust in politics collapsing

Trust in politics "has been collapsing", says Tom Tugendhat. "We all know that we need a clean start and many people are asking the right questions on this... and it's up to us to give the answer.

"What I've been calling out and what I've been demonstrating over the last few years is I'm someone who fights and I'm willing to call out my friends as well as my enemies. What I've been doing is holding a mirror to our actions and asking those in our party, those in leadership positions: 'Is that what the public really expects?'"

He says the real question tonight is: "Who is this Government for? It's not for us, it's not for any of us."

Mr Tugendhat insists he made his feelings on Boris Johnson "extremely clear, very early" and says he "swore loyalty to our country and that's where I will always owe my loyalty".

07:36 PM

I have always delivered - and will continue to do so, says Liz Truss

The first audience question is to the point: "Why should the public trust any of you?"

Liz Truss says she has been "somebody in Government who has said I will deliver things, often things that people said were impossible - for example the trade deals after we left the EU... I secured deals with Japan, with Australia, I delivered things I said I would deliver.

"As Foreign Secretary I have taken up the mantle of taking on Vladimir Putin in the face of the appalling [invasion of] Ukraine. I haven't overpromised, I've always said what can be done, what can't be done and what we now need to do is fix the economy."

Pressed on when she stood up for "integrity and honesty", Ms Truss said: "I'm a loyal person. I stood by Boris Johnson. Of course I raised issues with him in private. But I was part of his Cabinet, and I owe him my loyalty. In every statement I've ever made in Government, I'm always somebody who has acted with honesty and integrity."

07:32 PM

Tonight's studio audience is made up of floating voters

In other words, not the Tory faithful who will ultimately determine the next PM.

Rather, the candidates will need to impress this group at the ballot box in 2024.

07:31 PM

And they're off...

Tonight's debate is hosted by Channel 4's Krishnan Guru-Murthy.

He explains the five candidates will face questions from members of the public as they set out their stall, three years after Boris Johnson won the right to lead the Tory Party.

"After all the scandals, shame and sleaze, who's the right person to lead post-pandemic Britain through the worst cost-of-living crisis in living memory?" he asks.

07:29 PM

And the rest of the arrivals...

Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, has arrived at Here East studios in Stratford - Victoria Jones/PA Wire
Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, has arrived at Here East studios in Stratford - Victoria Jones/PA Wire
Penny Mordaunt - Victoria Jones/PA Wire
Penny Mordaunt - Victoria Jones/PA Wire
Kemi Badenoch - Victoria Jones/PA Wire
Kemi Badenoch - Victoria Jones/PA Wire

07:27 PM

Pictured: Rishi Sunak shows up and Tom Tugendhat arrives with wife

Rishi Sunak - Victoria Jones/PA Wire
Rishi Sunak - Victoria Jones/PA Wire
Tom Tugendhat - Victoria Jones/PA Wire
Tom Tugendhat - Victoria Jones/PA Wire

07:21 PM

Ten minutes to go...

This is the first of three live debates in the space of just five days.

An ITV News debate follows on Sunday, and a Sky News special on Tuesday with the remaining candidates.

But tonight all eyes are on the Channel 4 studios in the first televised contest of the campaign. Make sure to stay tuned to this live blog where we'll bring you the action - and snap analysis - as it happens.

07:16 PM

The most important political book that nobody has read (yet)

Greater: Britain after the Storm is a plan, or manifesto, to secure Britain’s recovery from three storms: the credit crunch of 2008, the Brexit divisions of 2016-2020, and the pandemic that has yet to end.

This apparently much-admired work has two remarkable features: until now, 14 months after publication, it had received little notice; and the co-author, Penny Mordaunt, seems on the verge of becoming prime minister.

Doubtless, if she reaches the final run-off, all the other 357 Tory MPs will digest it quickly.

Simon Heffer takes a closer look

07:10 PM

Sunak feeling 'pumped' ahead of tonight

Rishi Sunak has said he is "pumped" to be able to talk about his offer this evening.

"We've got a brilliant message... Thanks also for all your continued support, all the offers of help, the emails and tweets are amazing, keep them coming," he said in a video:

07:02 PM

The route to the final two

With a whole weekend to go before Tory MPs can get on with the business of whittling down the Tory leadership candidates, the next 48 hours will be a frenzy of plotting, scheming, and deal-making.

Not only will the candidates and their supporters be working out how to win a place in the head-to-head ballot of members, they will also be trying to game the system to make sure their strongest rival fails to make it through.

Gordon Rayner analyses the four most likely scenarios

06:59 PM

Gove is in the air

Ahead of tonight's debate, Tom Tugendhat has posted a video that goes behind the scenes of his hectic life on the campaign trail.

Mr Tugendhat can be seen juggling, singing to one of his children as he ties one of their shoelaces and even drinking from a mug that says: "I've got the hots for Michael Gove."

He can also be heard quipping: "Have I mentioned I was in the Army?"

06:53 PM

Tugendhat vows a clean start

Tom Tugendhat lost votes between the first and second ballots of Tory MPs, meaning he is now reliant on tonight and Sunday's debates to turn his fortunes around.

The chairman of the foreign affairs select committee has no backbench experience but has won praise for his interventions on the Afghanistan and Ukraine crises in the last year.

Tom Tugendhat is hoping he can turn around his fading fortunes in tonight and Sunday's debates - David Rose
Tom Tugendhat is hoping he can turn around his fading fortunes in tonight and Sunday's debates - David Rose

An ally of Mr Tugendhat, who is on the socially liberal, 'One Nation' wing of the party, said he was "bullish" about his chances and a "very good public speaker". We will see tonight...

06:46 PM

In Liz we Truss?

The Foreign Secretary has signalled a clean break with the economic policies of Boris Johnson and her leadership rival Rishi Sunak, pledging to deliver tax cuts on day one.

Ms Truss would reverse the National Insurance rise, cut corporation tax and suspend green levies to tackle the cost-of-living crisis. She also vows to ensure Putin fails in Ukraine.

Liz Truss - Tolga Akmen/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Liz Truss - Tolga Akmen/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

However, there are doubts in some quarters about whether she can make the step up to No 10, and tonight will hope to atone for past embarrassing public speaking performances.

06:40 PM

Backing for Badenoch

Kemi Badenoch has never served in the Cabinet but prides herself on a range of ministerial experience across Government - and has made it further than many had anticipated.

Earlier, Ms Badenoch urged the Conservative party to stop dividing people up by whether they voted leave or remain. She has also taken aim at critical race theory and identity politics.

Kemi Badenoch is running on a small-state, anti-'woke' platform - Jeff Gilbert
Kemi Badenoch is running on a small-state, anti-'woke' platform - Jeff Gilbert

Relatively unknown among the public until recently, her team say the goal was always to get her to the debate stage, and hope she can impress as much as she has during MPs' hustings.

06:35 PM

Mordaunt mania

Penny Mordaunt can probably be happiest with how her campaign has progressed to date. The international trade minister has become the bookmakers' favourite within a week.

Separate polling on Tuesday and Wednesday showed Ms Mordaunt was most liked among grassroots activists - and would see off any of her rivals in a head-to-head in the final stage.

Penny Mordaunt will be pleased with the early momentum her campaign has built up - Tolga Akmen/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Penny Mordaunt will be pleased with the early momentum her campaign has built up - Tolga Akmen/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

But she now finds herself under unprecedented levels of scrutiny, with limited Cabinet backing and sideswipes from the likes of Lord Frost - and so must prove herself tonight.

06:32 PM

Ready for Rishi?

Rishi Sunak, the former Chancellor, has had the slickest campaign to date as he looks to swap his two-and-a-half years in No 11 for many more in No 10.

He is pitching himself as the most sensible candidate on the economy and has promised to cut taxes, but only once inflation is under control as he seeks to balance the books.

Rishi Sunak at the Cinnamon Club for his campaign launch on Tuesday - Alberto Pezzali/AP
Rishi Sunak at the Cinnamon Club for his campaign launch on Tuesday - Alberto Pezzali/AP

Initially a frontrunner, Mr Sunak has found himself losing momentum to Penny Mordaunt in recent days. A natural in front of the cameras, he will be hoping tonight can change that.

06:28 PM

Good evening

Dominic Penna here, the Telegraph's political reporter bringing you live coverage of tonight's first televised Conservative leadership debate.

Five contenders are still in the race and, with the country watching as well as the party faithful, tonight promises to be pivotal for all remaining hopefuls.

A reminder that Kemi Badenoch, Liz Truss, Penny MordauntRishi Sunak and Tom Tugendhat are your final five. I'll bring the latest, plus plenty of pre- and post-match analysis, throughout the evening.