Liz Truss accuses Rishi Sunak of 'Project Fear' - as he warns she would 'tip millions into misery'

Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak clashed over their diverging tax policies in their first head-to-head debate of the final round of the Tory leadership contest.

While Ms Truss has set out an estimated £38billion of tax cuts, Mr Sunak insists he would only cut taxes once inflation was under control and suggested his rival was promising "fairy tales".

The former Chancellor cited sky-high American mortgage rates in response to Ms Truss's mention of their tax policy, only for the Foreign Secretary to tell him: "This is scaremongering, this is Project Fear."

She then compared him to former Labour PM Gordon Brown and said it was his policies which meant Britain was heading for recession.

On Ms Truss's plans to borrow to fund tax cuts, Mr Sunak hit back: "It's going to tip millions of people into misery and it means we're going to have absolutely no chance of winning the next election either."

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11:28 PM

And that's all for tonight...

Thank you for joining us for live coverage of tonight's debate - a bruising encounter with no clear winner, although Rishi Sunak's interruptions seemed to do him few favours.

Liz Truss's economic soundness was called into question as the Foreign Secretary put in her strongest performance yet but Mr Sunak warned she could tip millions into "misery".

Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss - Jacob King/WPA Pool/Getty Images
Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss - Jacob King/WPA Pool/Getty Images

Ms Truss unfavourably compared the former Chancellor to Gordon Brown, while Mr Sunak's team said it was her who would leave future generations with billions in debt.

It is unlikely many minds will have been changed by tonight's debate, which was full of 'blue-on-blue' battles begging the question: Once there is a winner, how will the Tory Party move forward as one?

Join us tomorrow for coverage of the joint Sun/Talk TV debate at 6pm

11:18 PM

Who won the Tory leadership debate? Read our writers' verdicts

Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss faced each other in a fiery debate tonight, clashing over everything from tax policies to TikTok.

Sometimes the person who wants something the most is the person who prevails. But Mr Sunak was so dominant it often came across as mansplaining.

The trouble for Ms Truss was she had few believable answers.

Read our writers' verdicts on what happened and who won

11:09 PM

Liz Truss vows to stop unions 'paralysing economy' with strikes

Liz Truss today pledged to clamp down on trade unions’ power and end to their ability to "paralyse the economy" by taking strike action.

A day before 40,000 RMT workers are set to walk out and bring the rail network to a standstill, the Tory leadership contender vowed to change the rules to prevent unions from “crippling” vital services.

Ms Truss said that, if she becomes prime minister, she would raise ballot thresholds so unions have to get the support of at least 50 per cent of members before they can take industrial action. The current figure is 40 per cent.

What Truss is promising within her first month

11:05 PM

The front page of your Daily Telegraph tomorrow

10:57 PM

Sunak under fire from Truss's Cabinet backers

Therese Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, told BBC Radio 5 Live the debate ended on a good night - but Rishi Sunak was "mansplaining" throughout.

And what would any development in the Conservative leadership contest be without an accompanying tweet from Nadine Dorries?

The Culture Secretary wrote during tonight's programme: Rishi really needs to stop talking over Liz Truss. It’s a terrible look. He’s irritable, aggressive, bad tempered. He’s loosing it."

10:47 PM

Debate was 'robust but respectful'

Asked by Camilla Turner whether Rishi Sunak was guilty of "mansplaining", Dominic Raab said: "I have known Liz for a long time, I think she is tough enough to fight back as she showed in these debates.

"I actually thought the debate was robust on the substance but respectful in person. But you would expect it to be a lively, passionate debate with both sides showing what they believe in.

"You would also expect it to be robust on the arguments because they are both auditioning, advertising, interviewing if you like to be Prime Minister."

10:45 PM

Dominic Raab: Rishi Sunak won economic argument 'hands down'

Dominic Raab, deputy Prime Minister and Rishi Sunak supporter, described the debate as "lively and rambunctious", writes Camilla Turner, who is in the spin room in Stoke.

He said: "There was a lot of passion on both sides. But what Rishi showed is that he has the credible plan to steer us through this global struggle against inflation, get the economy driving on all cylinders and then deliver tax cuts.

"And at the same time I think he exposed the flaws that Liz Truss’ own economic adviser Patrick Minford has exposed in her approach to the sugar rush of early tax cuts which will keep inflation higher for longer and ultimately lead to somewhere approaching seven per cent.

"That was the central economic argument up for grabs in this debate and I think Rishi won it hands down”.

10:44 PM

Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak on Boris Johnson's record:

10:39 PM

'A man talking in a debate is not mansplaining'

Responding to accusations of "mansplaining", a Rishi Sunak ally tells Camilla Turner:

It’s a debate. A man talking in a debate is not mansplaining. And let’s be honest, Liz offered him a job straight after so I’m not quite sure whether her spokesman is speaking for her or not.

A Rishi Sunak campaign source said: "We have built on the momentum of the last couple of weeks. There are plenty of other debates still to come. We are coming into this as the underdog. He will continue building on the momentum and exceeding expectations."

10:39 PM

Truss 'clear winner' tonight, says Business Secretary

Liz Truss is the clear winner from tonight’s debate, her Cabinet colleague Kwasi Kwarteng has said.

"An immediate plan to help households with rising costs. Focus on growing the economy and Brexit opportunities. Commitment to security at home and strength abroad. A straight-talker who keeps her promises," he wrote.

10:34 PM

Safe to say the Lib Dems weren't sold on what they saw

Responding to this evening's debate, a Liberal Democrat spokesman said:


10:31 PM

Liz and Rishi tear chunks out of each other - and maybe their future Cabinet careers

And breathe. Now that was a debate. We didn't know they had it in ‘em, writes Tim Stanley.

Liz Truss argued for tax cuts. Rishi Sunak made a passionate case for bean counting. He came off like the boy who got a briefcase for his birthday and not only loved it, he asked for another one next year.

The vibe was almost killed by the BBC, who seemed to throw everything but the kitchen sink at this debate - including a distracting graphical background, akin to a building society ad, and two charming but unnecessary political experts - Chris Mason and Faisal Islam - who sat in a box of their own, like Statler and Waldorf from the Muppets.

Tim Stanley: How would the loser serve in Government after this?

10:30 PM

Sunak won by a whisker, says snap poll - but not among Tories

Rishi Sunak won tonight's debate by just one percentage point, a snap poll of 1,032 adults has suggested.

The research, carried out among normal voters by Survation, puts Mr Sunak at 39 per cent and Ms Truss at 38 per cent.

But Ms Truss wins among Conservative voters (47 per cent to 38 per cent), while Mr Sunak beats the Foreign Secretary among Labour voters (41 per cent to 30 per cent).

10:25 PM

Tonight showed Rishi is ready, say backers

Dr Liam Fox, the former Cabinet minister, wrote on Twitter: "Tonight showed that Rishi Sunak  is ready to be Prime Minister in just a few weeks time. He is ready to lead our country in these most important and challenging times."

Andrew Bowie, the MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, added: "Inflation down. Getting the economy growing. That's a Conservative Plan. That's Rishi's Plan."

10:24 PM

Labour weighs in: 'Battle of the Lightweights'

10:23 PM

'Liz's attacks on Rishi’s backstory didn’t work'

Richard Holden MP, a supporter of Rishi Sunak, tells Camilla Turner: "You saw the really important dividing line between the two leaders is on interest rates. A point which Liz really hasn’t picked up that it would actually cost more to borrow in the long term. Rishi was really clear about that and Liz didn’t really have an answer.

"Liz's attacks on Rishi’s backstory didn’t really work because he comes from a background where his parents are a GP and a local pharmacist, they really had to work hard together, save and admittedly put him through an expensive school but that’s the way they did it."

10:21 PM

Have your say: Who won tonight's debate?

10:20 PM

Jonathan Gullis: Liz Truss is not a robot

Jonathan Gullis, MP for Stoke-on-Trent North and Liz Truss supporter, said tonight's debate showed that the Foreign Secretary is "not a robot", Camilla Turner reports from Stoke.

He said: "What Liz showed is that she is willing to stand up for what she believes in, that she isn’t afraid, she is not some robot that some people want to make out, she is willing to go toe to toe, she passionately defends her cause and ideas.

"I think she showed exactly what we know of her, she’s gritty, she’s determined, she’s passionate and she’s dynamic. I think she did a great job of that."

Asked whether Mr Sunak was guilty of “mansplaining” to Liz Truss, he said: “I thought [Rishi] was interrupting quite a lot at the beginning and you notice that he suddenly dropped off in the second half of the debate with that and I think that was the appropriate thing to do. Because at the end of the day we want to hear the ideas and the arguments."

10:13 PM

The Sunak campaign reacts

This debate demonstrates why polling shows Rishi Sunak has won the argument on the economy. He said "it’s not moral to pass on the tab to our children for bills we aren’t prepared to pay… I don’t think it’s right, I don’t think it’s responsible, and it’s certainly not Conservative."

Truss did not distance herself from her economic adviser Patrick Minford’s seven per cent interest rate prediction which would mean mortgage misery for millions. Her plans would leave our children and grandchildren with billions of pounds worth of debt. That is not what the Conservative Party is about.

We need someone that has the consistency and courage of their convictions. And that’s what Rishi will bring as Prime Minister.

10:06 PM

Snap analysis: This time, it was personal

Tonight's debate may have ended with Ms Truss and Mr Sunak singing each other's praises. But that could not have been further from how the rest of the night unfolded.

Mr Sunak warned Ms Truss risked tipping "millions of people into misery" with her economic policies, while Ms Truss accused him of "scaremongering and Project Fear" before comparing him to Gordon Brown.

None of this will do any favours for blue-on-blue unity after a weekend of bruising briefings. During the debate, no less, a spokesman for Ms Truss said: "Rishi Sunak has tonight proven he is not fit for office. His aggressive mansplaining and shouty private school behaviour is desperate, unbecoming and is a gift to Labour."

Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss  - Jacob King/PA Wire
Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss - Jacob King/PA Wire

Mr Sunak spent swathes of the debate interrupting Ms Truss - prompting her to ask him to let her speak - something which may backfire. Also notable were the rare smatterings of applause for either of candidate, and just how personal this contest is.

In many ways, tonight proved the current leadership contest is a battle for the ideological soul of the Conservative Party.

10:00 PM

What is there to work on, candidates asked

What quality does Rishi Sunak need to work on to be the best possible PM, Liz Truss is asked?

Ms Truss says it's "been fantastic working with you and I think we've shared a belief in Britain... The thing I think you should work on and I want to work on this with you and if I win I would love you to be part of my team is taking more risks and being bolder. Because I think that's what we need to do as a country. We cannot just have more business as usual".

Mr Sunak is asked the same question: "We had this in another debate and I'm not going to do it again because I have enormous respect and admiration for Liz... There is much more that unites us than divides us."

He says "of course I would" work with the Foreign Secretary if she became PM.

09:59 PM

Quick fire round

Is Brexit to blame for the current travel chaos?

Both Ms Truss and Mr Sunak say no.

Will strikes be banned on essential public services?

Both Ms Truss and Mr Sunak say yes.

Will you publish your full tax affairs if you are prime minister?

Both Ms Truss and Mr Sunak say no.

What would you give Boris Johnson out of 10 as PM?

Ms Truss: 7

Mr Sunak: You know what, my views are clear. When he was great, he was great... Actually in delivering a solution to Brexit and winning an election that's a 10/10. No one else probably could have done that.

He is met with applause from the audience.

09:57 PM

Rishi Sunak's tax rises helping to  'destroy trust', suggests Liz Truss

Julie, who works in pharmaceuticals, says it is "very, very easy" to blame Boris Johnson for trust issues "as if everything is going to be fine now". She says there is a "more fundamental issue around a culture in Westminster" focused on short-term media soundbites, rather than the difficult things needed long term.

Liz, who works in finance, says she wants someone she can trust, someone who is honest and someone who has integrity.

Sunak - BBC via Reuters
Sunak - BBC via Reuters

Rishi Sunak says he has "not taken the easy road" and his life is "not any easier" as a result of his economic worldview. "The next way we restore trust after being honesty, whether it's restoring the backlog, whether it's illegal migration... it's acknowledging the trade-offs in life."

Liz Truss says "we didn't need to" put taxes up "but those taxes were put up and I think it's that kind of thing, politicians not following through on their promises, that destroys trust." A round of applause for Ms Truss after that...

09:54 PM

Liz Truss: We need to focus on what matters

On Boris Johnson serving his Cabinet, Rishi Sunak says: "The simple answer for me is no. I think we need to move forward... I want to bring the change this country needs. I think it's incumbent on whoever leads this country to bring our party back together.

"We've got to go on about the things that people care about."

09:51 PM

Liz Truss: Boris's mistakes weren't serious enough for him to go

What would Boris Johnson have had to do for Liz Truss to resign?

"I supported Boris for leadership, I was his first Cabinet supporter to come out. He did an incredible job of delivering Brexit... an 80-seat majority... Yes, he made mistakes and he's admitted he made mistakes but I didn't think the mistakes he made were sufficient that the Conservative Party should have rejected him.

"That is my view, and I'm still working with the Prime Minister, I'm still Foreign Secretary. I think it's important that I remained in my post, we have very, very serious issues to deal with. And I thought it would be a dereliction of duty to leave my job at that junction."

After spending time with him this week on foreign affairs, Ms Truss says he "very much suspects he would not want a future role in Government... I think he wants a well-earned break... I really don't think it's a genuine question. I just don't think it's going to happen. What's done is done, the party has made the decision, I've told you my views of that. I have now put myself forward as a candidate because I believe he's the right person to do the job."

09:49 PM

Finally, some applause from the audience

Pressed by Chris Mason on how he repaid Boris Johnson by resigning, Rishi Sunak describes Boris Johnson as "one of the most remarkable people I've met... and I'm very proud of all the things we achieved in Government together, actually".

"For me I acted out of principle and I think that's important. When it comes to this Remain thing and Liz was saying, I do think that we need someone as leader who has the consistency and courage of their convictions, and that is something I will bring to this country."

Mr Sunak gets the first applause of the night for that answer.

09:48 PM

Rishi Sunak on Boris: I'm always going to act on principle

For the first time tonight, Boris Johnson comes up. Rishi Sunak is asked what he would say to those who see him as the man who brought the PM down.

"It wasn't an easy decision, it was a difficult decision... but it was a decision that I made on principle, and that's what you should know about me, I'm always going to act on principle. When I was told if I supported Brexit I went on and did it anyway, I did it out of conviction... I will always act on principle."

On the £4,300-per-household claim she made on Brexit, Liz Truss says: "That is where I lost trust in Treasury forecasting. That is the point I'm making, those predictions of doom did not come true. I've learnt from that, if there was a referendum again I would vote to leave.

"And since the referendum took place I've delivered dozens of trade deals, I've pushed through the Northern Ireland Protocol... I'm very, very keen to take advantage of all the opportunities of Brexit."

09:45 PM

It suits Truss to have deleted Twitter

Liz Truss claims since the campaign she has "deleted Twitter from my phone" but does not share Ms Dorries's criticisms of Rishi Sunak's suits.

Does Ms Truss disown Ms Dorries's words? "I'm not going to give him fashion advice and I don't think this is really the key issue in the campaign frankly."

09:43 PM

'Those are conservative values'

Liz Truss gets a laugh by saying "I'm not sure Chris Mason has ever been to Claire's Accessories" in light of the row over Nadine Dorries's comments.

The candidates are asked by Mr Mason: Given this is what their supporters are saying, does this matter?

Rishi Sunak says: "I've got enormous respect and admiration for Liz and all the other people who have spent time in this leadership campaign. And actually when this is all done we're all part of the same Conservative family, we're going to come together.

"I wasn't born this way. My family emigrated here 60 years ago. I worked as a waiter at the Indian restaurant down the road and I'm standing here because of the hard work, sacrifice and love of my parents and the opportunities they provided for me. Those values of hard work and aspiration, those are conservative values."

09:41 PM

Liz Truss: I was an environmentalist before it was cool

Rishi Sunak says reducing energy efficiency, recycling - which his household is "obsessive about" - and innovation can help to solve the climate crisis.

He urges Britain to "do the amazing British thing that we always do" to "leave our kids a much better environment".

Liz Truss recalls her days as an "environmentalist before it was fashionable" in her teenage days. "I'm naturally a thrifty person... it also helps the environment."

She says Britain can use less, waste less - especially food waste - but also provide "the innovation we need" from electric vehicles to home insulation.

"But what I don't want to see is ordinary households penalised by our net zero target so I would lift the green energy levy and cut money from people's fuel bills."

09:39 PM

Ukraine support 'will continue whoever becomes prime minister'

How far would Ms Truss and Mr Sunak go on Russia? Ms Truss says she is proud of the UK's record in Ukraine, but would not be prepared for direct British involvement in the conflict: "We have done as much as we can, we put the toughest possible sanctions on Russia."

Mr Sunak says sanctions have "really hampered Putin's war effort" and as Chancellor supported Ukraine in weapons export and aid. "That will continue whoever becomes prime minister," he replies.

09:37 PM

'We absolutely should be cracking down' on TikTok

Are the hopefuls willing to damage their relations with Britain's number one export party, and will TikTok be cracked down on?

Liz Truss: We absolutely should be cracking down on those types of companies and we should be limiting the amount of technology exports we do to authoritarian regimes. I don't think it's inevitable China will be the biggest economy in the world, in fact we've been enabling that to happen... We have to take a tougher stance. We have to learn from the mistakes we made of Europe becoming dependent on Russian oil and gas. And freedom is a price worth paying.

Rishi Sunak: I helped pass in Parliament a piece of legislation that gives the Government the powers to block investment in our economy from countries and companies that we think are not consistent with our values and interests. It's happening with our universities and civic societies... as prime minister I'll take a very robust view.

09:35 PM

Truss and Sunak trade blows on China

On blows traded about China in the press, Rishi Sunak says we need to realise "China is a threat to our national security, a threat to our economic security".

He cites past comments from Liz Truss about wanting a closer relationship, but says "Liz has been on a journey as well".

Ms Truss argues Mr Sunak "as recently as a month ago was pushing about closer trade relationships with China. I'm delighted that you've come round to my way of thinking. But it's been driven by the Foreign Office, the toughest stance we've taken on China.

"Frankly, what we've heard from the Treasury is a desire for closer economic relations with China... my view is we must not repeat the mistake we made with Russia on becoming strategically dependent on Russia."

Mr Sunak reminds Ms Truss of when she said we were entering "a golden age of relations" with China. The Foreign Secretary says it was "almost a decade ago".

09:31 PM

Rishi Sunak: Levelling up about 'enormous pride' in where you live

Rishi Sunak says an "unequivocal, massive yes" to his commitment to levelling up.

"I grew up in Southampton... and now I represent a rural seat in north Yorkshire and Teesside is my back door. And I've seen the amazing change I've helped to deliver in a place like that, delivering a freeport that's attracted jobs and investment to Brexit with new industries like carbon capture stories and vaccine manufacturing.

Sunak - Jacob King/PA Wire
Sunak - Jacob King/PA Wire

"It should mean that no matter where you grow up, you have fantastic opportunities to fulfil your potential but you also have enormous pride in the place you call home."

09:30 PM

Liz Truss: I am completely committed to levelling up

Ms Truss and Mr Sunak are asked by Chris Mason, the BBC's political editor, if levelling up would be as central to them as it was to Boris Johnson.

The Foreign Secretary says: "I am completely committed to levelling up It is not just a slogan for me, it is about the life I've had, I've seen what happened in Paisley, what happened in Leeds where children were let down by a combination of low expectations, low opportunities and a poor level of education standards."

Ms Truss promises to unleash private sector investment and change Treasury investment rules which "favour London" while "getting the best schools everywhere in the country and allowing those to thrive as well".

09:28 PM

Liz Truss promises low-tax investment zones

On levelling up, Rishi Sunak points to the £50million-plus sum he secured as Chancellor in investment for Stoke-on-Trent. Tax cuts on business investment are what businesses want, Mr Sunak says.

"What people want to see is urgent action, they don't want promises tomorrow, they want things to today to relieve the cost-of-living... what I would do immediately is low-tax investment zones," Ms Truss replies. "We need to challenge the orthodoxy that is making things so slow to deliver. I don't just talk, I act."

09:25 PM

Dig at Dominic Raab from Liz Truss

On a 2011 book which claimed "British idlers [were] among the worst in the world", Ms Truss said: "Each author wrote a different chapter. Dominic Raab wrote that chapter - he’s backing Rishi Sunak."

Mr Sunak says if you want to drive growth, "it's about so much more than tax - it's about bringing the change we need to make sure our children are equipped for digital industries, it's about making sure we can help people retrain in the middle of their careers.

"You talk about bean counting as if it's somehow not a conservative thing to do to make sure we pay for the things we make money on."

09:23 PM

'Crashing the economy is a massive mistake'

Liz Truss notes there is still "headroom" to pay debt down after three years.

She is asked by Faisal Islam how it saves any money. Ms Truss says her government would "optimise how we take out those debts... When you have a major world event, a major economic shock, trying to pay back the debt as quickly as possible is not the right thing to do economically.

"Crashing the economy in order to pay a debt back quicker is a massive mistake and what I know is that mistake won't just be felt by people living in London, it will be felt by people in towns and cities right across the United Kingdom."

Rishi Sunak warns the "mistake we will make is at a time when inflation is already high... does anyone think that the sensible thing to do is go on a massive borrowing spree worth tens of billions of pounds and fuel inflation even further?

"If we do that all it's going to mean is inflation stays here for longer and interest rates go up."

09:21 PM

Truss likens Sunak to Gordon Brown

Liz Truss asks Rishi Sunak: "Rishi, you've just put in the highest tax rises for 70 years. How on earth can you claim that's going to lead to economic growth and where have the growth policies been for the last two-and-a-half years... What I would do is realise the post-Brexit opportunities... and I'd get on with it.

"This is the same line that we heard from Gordon Brown when he was in the Treasury."

Mr Sunak reads out Ms Truss's on words at her: "'Let fiscal responsibility slide... it will lead us straight into penury.' You were right then, and you're wrong now."

Ms Truss insists she is not "advocating raising taxes at this vital time when we're trying to attract investment into fantastic places like Stoke-on-Trent."

09:18 PM

Liz Truss tells Rishi Sunak: This is Project Fear

Trying to pay back the Covid debt so quickly Britain falls into recession "is what is morally wrong", argues Liz Truss.

Rishi Sunak cites American mortgage rates in response to Ms Truss's mention of their tax policy. But Ms Truss rebukes him: "This is scaremongering, this is project fear, scaremongering, it is."

Truss - Jacob King/PA Wire
Truss - Jacob King/PA Wire

Mr Sunak says: "I remember the referendum campaign and there was only one of us on the side of Project Fear and Remain and it was you, not me."

"Maybe I've learned from that," Ms Truss shrugs.

09:16 PM

Sunak: Truss's tax plans 'not moral, not sound'

Mr Sunak points to Patrick Mitford's comments that interest rates may have to go up to as much as seven per cent.

"This is the problem to your plan, it's going to push people into misery..." he says.

"I don't accept those points," Ms Truss insists. "Any economist knows that taxes are completely different from interest rates. This Chancellor has raised taxes to the highest level in 70 years and now we're set for a recession."

Rishi Sunak interjects: "It's not a moral thing to do, it's not a Conservative thing to do. If we're not for sound money we're not a Conservative money."

09:14 PM

'Negative, declinist language'

Rishi Sunak tells Liz Truss: "We need to get a grip of inflation and if we don't do that now it's going to cost you and your plans, your own economic adviser has said that would lead to mortgage rates, interest rates going up to seven per cent. That's thousands of pounds in their mortgage bill. It's going to tip millions of people into misery and it means we're going to have absolutely no chance of winning the next election either."

Ms Truss replies: "Rishi is talking about raising taxes at a time when there is a global economic crisis."

Mr Sunak interrupts, repeating the words of Ms Truss's economic adviser.

"Can you let me respond," says Ms Truss. "Please let me respond. You were talking about putting up taxes. We know there are companies here in Stoke-on-Trent... that depend on international investors. We know that those jobs are needed for the future and to give people opportunities. I don't believe this negative, declinist language..."

"It's not mine, it's your own adviser!" snaps back Mr Sunak. Bad-tempered stuff so far...

09:11 PM

'Nothing conservative' about your plans, Sunak tells Truss

Rishi Sunak says there was "a bill we needed to pay" for Covid, and insists this must not be "put on our country's credit card".

"I don't think that's right, I don't think that's responsible and that's certainly not conservative."

Liz Truss responds she would start paying back Covid debt within three years, which Mr Sunak says is "simply not right, you promised almost £40billion of unfunded tax cuts. £40billion more borrowing! That is the country's credit card, it's our children and grandchildren."

"Rishi, that is not true," says Ms Truss, adding Covid was a "once in 100 years event" and citing the OECD describing Mr Sunak's policies as "contractionary" - meaning recession.

"There's nothing conservative about it," snipes Mr Sunak.

09:09 PM

Liz Truss: Pay back debt by growing the economy

Liz Truss pays tribute to David Trimble, before saying she will "act immediately" to support families with the cost-of-living crisis.

"I would reverse the increase in National Insurance. We promised not to raise it in our manifesto in 2019. The people here who voted Conservative in 2019 for the first time expect us to fulfil our promises. I would also have a temporary moratorium on the green levy that would help cut fuel bills - that's very important, that would come in immediately".

Ms Truss says the "way we're going to pay back our debt is by growing the economy" and promises to put into a place a growth plan immediately.

09:08 PM

'If there's more that needs to be done, of course I will do that'

On whether there will be any more help, Mr Sunak says: "When we get in we'll have to see what happens to energy bills... I think people have seen from me in the last couple of years that as the situation changes on the ground I'm always going to respond to help people through it."

But he adds it is worth thinking about solving the problem "long-term" - including helping Britons better insulate their homes, saving £300 on their energy bills - and ensuring "more homegrown energy at home... in the long-term that's how we're going to solve the problem".

Mr Sunak clarifies he doesn't know "quite where" the energy price cap will fall.

"We know energy bills are very volatile... and if there's more that needs to be done, of course I will do that."

09:07 PM

If Prime Minister, will there be more help from you?

Rishi Sunak pays tribute to David Trimble as a "champion of unionism".

Mr Sunak says: "I know it's difficult... I spent all my time talking to people like you across the country, figuring out how we can try to help people meet some of those rising bills. You'll remember one of the last things I did as Chancellor was announce significant amounts of support to help people get through autumn and winter.

"And as prime minister I'd like to make sure that we always have the policies in place to support people like you, who are working incredibly hard for you and your families."

09:05 PM

The first section: The cost-of-living crisis

Giles, a police officer, says he is finding rising costs "very difficult" and his energy bills have tripled in the last six months. Charlotte, also in the audience, says the Government "basically have contributed towards Universal Credit and people on benefits... but I'm a single parent and I work full time and I'm struggling".

09:04 PM

'Are you ready for this?'

Liz Truss: Yes, I am

Rishi Sunak: Yes, absolutely

09:03 PM

Tonight's audience all voted Tory in 2019...

... some of them for the very first time.

The Tories won both Stoke-on-Trent North, which now has Jonathan Gullis as its MP, and Stoke-on-Trent Central, now represented by Jo Gideon, from Labour in 2019 as part of an 80-seat landslide that saw them gain "Red Wall" seats across the North and the Midlands.

But recent polling suggests they would be on course to lose the majority of Red Wall constituencies at the next election.

09:03 PM

Happy birthday Liz Truss

This is the first head-to-head debate between Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss since the leadership field was whittled down to two candidates.

Today, it turns out, is Ms Truss's birthday - the ideal way to spend anyone's 46th.

09:02 PM

This time next week we'll have a new PM...

Who will be our next prime minister - Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak?, asks Sophie Raworth.

She notes one of them will be moving into 10 Downing Street in just six weeks' time.

09:00 PM

Here we go...

Tonight's BBC debate set, in Stoke-on-Trent, looks like this:

Stoke debate set - Jeff Overs/BBC
Stoke debate set - Jeff Overs/BBC

The programme will be hosted by Sophie Raworth, with analysis from Faisal Islam, the BBC's economics editor, and Chris Mason, the channel's political editor.

08:56 PM

Ukraine and economy key for local Tory chief

Graham Hutton, the chairman of the Newcastle-under-Lyme Conservative Association, has said he expects "good communication skills, a view of what the future is going to be" and "[building] a strong team" they could delegate to.

"At the moment I'm quite happy to have either of them," Mr Hutton told the BBC. "The hustings have to show me how good they are at expecting what we expect to see in a leader. And particularly addressing the issue of Ukraine, which is causing the cost-of-living crisis, and building the economy so it is fit for the future."

08:54 PM

What Labour wants tonight

Anneliese Dodds, the Labour Party chairman, hopes "people in Stoke will be looking at us again" as they watch tonight's televised debate.

Ms Dodds said only her party could present a "fresh start" after 12 years of Conservative government - although there may be jitters at Labour HQ about the prospect of prime minister Truss or Sunak seeking to reinvent the Tories while they are in office.

08:50 PM

What's at stake tonight?

Liz Truss has the most to lose this evening. After her punchy performance during the second televised debate - a marked improvement on a somewhat awkward effort in the first - she will likely face questions about her loyalty to Boris Johnson until the very end, how she would fund her tax cuts, and what marks her out as a 'change' candidate.

Rishi Sunak, by contrast, has the most work to do. The former Chancellor may be called out for what many members will see as disloyalty towards Mr Johnson towards the end of his premiership, how he plans to mitigate a worsening cost-of-living crisis for Britons as inflation bites, and of course his record at the Treasury - including tax rises.

08:46 PM

Rishi Sunak has a 'very important' night ahead, says ally

There is a heavy presence from Team Rishi in the "spin room", ahead of tonight's debate, Camilla Turner, our Chief Political Correspondent, reports.

Dominic Raab, the Deputy Prime Minister, is here along with other key campaign allies Richard Holden MP and Claire Coutinho MP. They are all working the room, speaking to journalists to give their pre-debate spin. Meanwhile Team Liz is nowhere to be seen.

Rishi Sunak will be hoping tonight's performance takes the cake - Simon Walker
Rishi Sunak will be hoping tonight's performance takes the cake - Simon Walker

Jo Gideon, MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central and Rishi Sunak supporter, told The Telegraph that tonight's debate is "very important" for Mr Sunak.

She said: "The key thing is that the Conservative party members do not represent the rest of the electorate. What we need is a leader who can take us to a fifth term. There is no point if you can't deliver that."

08:44 PM

Just over 15 minutes to go...

Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss have both arrived at Victoria Hall for tonight's debate:

Truss - Jacob King/PA Wire
Truss - Jacob King/PA Wire
Sunak - Jacob King/PA Wire
Sunak - Jacob King/PA Wire

08:19 PM

Sir Keir Starmer: Lord Trimble was a 'towering figure'

Sir Keir Starmer has paid tribute to Lord Trimble, describing him as a "towering figure of Northern Ireland and British politics".

"Very sad news. David Trimble was a towering figure of Northern Ireland and British politics as one of the key authors of the Good Friday Agreement, the first First Minister and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize," he tweeted.

"My thoughts are with Lady Trimble and their family."

08:16 PM

Lord Trimble was a 'brilliant statesman', says Brandon Lewis

Brandon Lewis, who resigned as Northern Ireland secretary earlier this month, paid tribute to Lord Trimble, describing him as a "brilliant statesman".

"Incredibly sad news that David Trimble has died," he tweeted. "A brilliant statesman and dedicated public servant, his legacy as an architect of the Good Friday Agreement will live on forever.

"The people of the UK owe him an immense debt of gratitude for all he achieved for our Union."

08:15 PM

Doug Beattie: Lord Trimble was a man of courage and vision

Doug Beattie, the UUP leader, paid tribute to Lord Trimble saying his death would cause "deep sadness" throughout Northern Ireland and much further afield.

"David Trimble was a man of courage and vision. He chose to grasp the opportunity for peace when it presented itself and sought to end the decades of violence that blighted his beloved Northern Ireland," he said.

"He will forever be associated with the leadership he demonstrated in the negotiations that led up to the 1998 Belfast Agreement.

"The bravery and courage he demonstrated whilst battling his recent illness was typical of the qualities he showed in his political career, at Stormont and at Westminster.

"He will be remembered as a First Minister, as a peer of the realm and as a Nobel Prize winner. He will also be remembered as a great Unionist.

"On behalf of the Ulster Unionist Party, and with a very heavy heart, I would like to extend my deepest sympathies to his wife Lady Trimble and his children, Richard, Victoria, Sarah and Nicholas."

07:56 PM

Lord Trimble: Former Northern Ireland first minister dies aged 77

Lord Trimble - Heathcliff O'Malley 
Lord Trimble - Heathcliff O'Malley

Lord David Trimble, the former first minister of Northern Ireland and Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leader, has died aged 77.

Lord Trimble led the UUP between 1995 and 2005 and was instrumental in the negotiation of the Good Friday Agreement, winning the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.

He was the First Minister of Northern Ireland from 1998 to 2002 and was the first to serve in the role.

You can read the full story here

07:47 PM

Boris Johnson will step down, No 10 insists

Downing Street has insisted Boris Johnson will step down once a new Conservative Party leader is in place.

A Number 10 spokeswoman, responding to comments from Lord Cruddas, said: "The Prime Minister has resigned as party leader and set out his intention to stand down as PM when the new leader is in place."

07:16 PM

What happens next in the battle to be prime minister

Mr Sunak and Ms Truss are going head-to-head in the battle for No 10 and face a series of hustings and debates over the coming weeks before the next prime minister is announced.

The first debate of the final round takes place tonight as both be seeking to set out their stalls to Tory Party members who will determine the winner of the contest.

Mr Sunak and Ms Truss will use the series of upcoming events to convince members that they have the answers to the critical issues of the day.

In full: Your must-read schedule for the next six weeks

07:11 PM

Rishi Sunak: I'll do whatever it takes to battle unions

In response to fresh rail strikes being confirmed for July 27 and July 30, Mr Sunak said:

These irresponsible strikes will cause hardship for millions of ordinary workers across the country. Keir Starmer and the Labour Party should stand up to their Union paymasters instead of joining them on the picket line.

The Labour Party are on the side of the strikers - the Conservatives are on the side of the strivers. We need to urgently deliver our 2019 Manifesto commitment to require minimum service levels during transport strikes.

As Prime Minister, I will stop the Unions holding working people to ransom. I will do whatever it takes to make sure that Unions cannot dictate how the British people go about their daily life.

07:05 PM

Exclusive: I don't want to resign, Boris tells friend

All eyes are on the prospective next prime minister and leader of the Conservative party - but what of the outgoing one?

Now, our own Christopher Hope can reveal Boris Johnson has told a former treasurer, who is campaigning to keep him in office, that he "does not want to resign" as Prime Minister and wishes he could "wipe away" his departure.

Boris Johnson Tory leadership prime minister - Andy Bailey/AFP
Boris Johnson Tory leadership prime minister - Andy Bailey/AFP

The Prime Minister also told Lord Cruddas of Shoreditch at Chequers over lunch on Friday that he "wants to fight the next general election as leader of the Conservative Party", the peer said.

The pair discussed Lord Cruddas’s "bring back Boris" campaign for a second vote among the party's grassroots to confirm whether they think Mr Johnson should have to resign.

You can read the full story here

06:55 PM

I am the true Tory choice, suggests Liz Truss

The Foreign Secretary does not mince her words in her most recent campaign video, which has just been tweeted out from her account.

"I am the only person who can deliver the change we need to the economy in line with true Conservative principles," she can be heard saying over campaigning footage.

"That means cutting taxes to help hard-pressed families to deal with the cost of living... I am campaigning as a Conservative and I will govern as a Conservative."

06:45 PM

'Shut up and stop glory-hunting'

A senior Welsh Conservative MP did not mince his words this evening when asked about the current tone of the leadership campaign.

Asked what his message was to Sunak and Truss backers who had clashed with rival supporters (see 4.18pm), Andrew RT Davies - the leader of the Welsh Conservative group in the Sennedd - had a blunt reply: "Shut up."

"Let the two candidates do the talking, the speaking; there's plenty of opportunities for them to do that," Mr Davies went on to tell BBC Wales.

"It's just a couple of people chasing their on screen glory moment, or what they think is their on screen glory moment."

06:38 PM

In the spin room after the debate...

Via Ben Riley-Smith, our Political Editor:

Team Sunak

  • Dominic Raab - Justice Secretary, Deputy PM

  • Richard Holden - MP for North West Durham

  • Claire Coutinho -  MP for East Surrey

  • Jo Gideon - MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central

Team Truss

  • Therese Coffey - Work and Pensions Secretary

  • Jonathan Gullis - MP for Stoke-on-Trent North

06:35 PM

Where Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak stand on the key issues

Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak are racing to set out their stalls and appeal to Tory members as they go head-to-head in the final battle to replace Boris Johnson.

The former chancellor is pitching himself to the party and members as the serious candidate on the economy, who can guide the country through a potential recession by resisting calls for tax cuts.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Secretary is marketing herself as a Thatcherite who promises tax cuts, foreign policy experience, and a track record of delivery.

Nick Gutteridge looks at where both candidates stand

06:23 PM

How Boris Johnson could chart a course back to Number 10

"Hasta la vista - baby!" Boris Johnson was on his best teasing form when he spoke for the last time from the House of Commons despatch box at Prime Minister's Questions.

The Spanish phrase - Johnson's parting words as he stood down from the dispatch box - means "see you later", but everybody knows who really said it: Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator (whose other catchphrase, let’s not forget, was "I'll be back").

Mr Johnson - who is thought to have spent the weekend at Chequers - is silent on his future. But it is not too far-fetched to believe he wants to copy Winston Churchill, who was pushed out at the 1945 election only to return triumphantly to 10 Downing Street in 1951.

Christopher Hope on why Johnson may lead again

06:03 PM

Boris Johnson could serve in Liz Truss’s cabinet, says ally

Boris Johnson could serve in a Liz Truss Cabinet, a minister and close ally of the Tory leadership contender has indicated.

James Cleverly, the Education Secretary, said Mr Johnson was an "incredibly talented politician" and did not rule out the possibility of him making a return to the front bench.

It comes after two Cabinet ministers said Mr Johnson is finished as Prime Minister in an attempt to put to bed the suggestion that he could make a shock return to Number 10.

But speculation continues to swirl that he could remain in top level politics, with Mr Cleverly saying he would be "comfortable" with this as long as Ms Truss was.

James Cleverly: Boris Johnson is an 'incredibly talented politician'

05:47 PM

A taxing contest

The main point of difference between Ms Truss and Mr Sunak already seems to be taxation - an issue that cuts to the heart of their conflicting ideas about conservatism.

The Foreign Secretary, who spoke out against April's National Insurance rise at the Cabinet table, has made no secret of her dislike of many decisions taken by Mr Sunak as chancellor.

Ms Truss has promised tax cuts on day one and warned her rival's approach - which would mean no tax cuts until inflation comes down - would "choke off" the economy. But Mr Sunak insists he has a more "honest" vision and said Ms Truss's plans to borrow to meet the £38billion price of her proposals amounted to "socialism".

As many backbench MPs and grassroots point out, the "tax-cutting Chancellor" wasn't always what he claimed to be. Was his hand forced? And is Ms Truss's alternative credible?

05:30 PM

Why next PM must loosen our ties with China

Tom Tugendhat may be out of the leadership race but the former soldier, who set up the China Research Group in 2020, has issued a stark warning to Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak.

I’m pleased that both Tory leadership candidates have recognised the threat [posed by China]. Now the UK needs to meet this economic threat with a proportionate response. 

Our China strategy should be about reducing this dependence, and instead delivering policies which strengthen the British economy for the turbulent times ahead.

In order to achieve this, the next Prime Minister should prioritise three things: stem the flow of British innovation to Beijing, protect British jobs from unfair state-backed economic competition, and diversify our supply chains.

05:15 PM

It's a no to Neil from team Truss

Liz Truss will not agree to a televised interview with Andrew Neil despite Rishi Sunak signing up for a grilling, writes Ben Riley-Smith, our Political Editor.

Mr Sunak has agreed to be interviewed by Mr Neil in a special Tory leadership programme which will be broadcast on Channel 4 on Friday evening.

The broadcaster said Ms Truss has "so far declined to take part - but the invitation remains open" but an ally of the Foreign Secretary said she does not intend to take part because her "focus" is on speaking directly to Tory members.

'For now, it's a no' from Truss to Andrew Neil grilling

04:58 PM

This Tory debate is neither nasty nor 'unprecedented' - it’s needed

When exactly did vituperative argument become politically unacceptable? asks Janet Daley.

I thought disagreement was the essence of democracy. What is the point of electoral choices if they are not between significantly differing views?

In fact, it has been clear for generations that the population is most likely to become engaged with the political process when those disagreements are impassioned and when people believe that they are likely to have serious consequences for their own lives.

So can we stop - or rather, can the broadcast media stop - acting as if the occasional sparks of genuine annoyance and exasperation which have enlivened the Tory leadership debates somehow discredit the participants?

Read more: This is an urgent national debate - not a tea party

04:42 PM

Have Sunak and Truss got what it takes on border control?

And so the leadership election has turned to immigration, writes Nick Timothy.

Supporting the plan to send migrants who come here illegally to Rwanda, Rishi Sunak says: "I will do whatever it takes to implement it." Liz Truss agrees: "I am determined to see our Rwanda policy through."

Predictably, Labour has accused Mr Sunak and Ms Truss of pandering to "rabid, bigoted" party members. But most of us understand that immigration must be controlled, for social, cultural, economic and democratic reasons.

Of course, we can integrate newcomers, but integration takes time so the pace of change must not be too fast. There is a cultural case for control.

Nick Timothy: Our next PM must leave the ECHR

04:27 PM

How do things look at the moment?

Going into tonight it is Ms Truss who has the most cause for confidence.

Last week, a major poll suggested almost two-thirds of Tory members were set to vote for her to become the party's new leader – leaving Rishi Sunak with a mountain to climb.

Liz Truss goes into tonight's debate with the momentum among members - Tolga Akmen/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Liz Truss goes into tonight's debate with the momentum among members - Tolga Akmen/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The YouGov poll found that when 'don't knows' and those planning to abstain were excluded, 62 per cent of members planned to support the Foreign Secretary - giving her a 24-point lead over Mr Sunak, who languished on 38 per cent.

Fewer than half of Conservative members believed Mr Sunak could be trusted, indicating his decision to resign in a bid to force Boris Johnson out counted against him. He also trailed on the question of whether he had the ability to lead the party.

04:18 PM

The simple Claire's Accessories of life

As the battle for Downing Street enters its third full week, it would be safe to say it has been a bad-tempered contest to date - less so because of the candidates themselves, more because of the very public sparring between their allies.

Nadine Dorries, the Culture Secretary and a supporter of Rishi Sunak’s leadership rival Liz Truss, pointed to reports the millionaire former chancellor had been pictured wearing a £3,500 suit and £490 Prada shoes.

In an unedifying exchange, Ms Dorries took to Twitter to contrast it with Ms Truss's earrings "which cost circa £4.50 from Claire Accessories". Angela Richardson, the MP for Guildford and a supporter of Mr Sunak, tweeted back: "FFS Nadine! Muted."

Mr Sunak and Ms Truss will both be conscious of the personal nature of the two televised debates to date, particularly the ITV offering on July 17 which saw them trade barbs over Europe and the economy. It is no surprise their strongest criticisms of the other candidate were turned into attack ads by Labour. Will things tone down tonight?

04:12 PM

Setting the scene

The set of tonight's debate - Jeff Overs/BBC/PA
The set of tonight's debate - Jeff Overs/BBC/PA

Here is the set in Victoria Hall, Stoke-on-Trent, ahead of the leadership debate tonight.

The hour-long show will be helmed by newsreader Sophie Raworth, who until recently presented the channel's Sunday Morning breakfast television politics programme.

04:05 PM

Good afternoon

Dominic Penna here, the Telegraph's political reporter taking you through what promises to be another lively leadership debate as the race for No 10 heats up.

Liz Truss will be hoping to extend her momentum in the contest to become the next Conservative leader and prime minister, while Rishi Sunak - who trails in polling among the grassroots - must do enough to change minds.

The debate - Britain's Next Prime Minister - will take the form of an hour-long, head-to-head programme on BBC One, starting at 9pm.

I will guide you through the build-up to the debate, the clash between the candidates and all the aftermath and reaction.