Sunak tries to flee Tory campaign launch after minimal questioning

Rishi Sunak tries to flee Tory campaign launch after taking questions from just four reporters as supporters BOO Sky’s Beth Rigby for calling him a ‘corrosive’ figure and bringing up his wife’s ‘non-dom’ status (before her mic ‘dropped out’)

  • Ex-chancellor tried to leave event in central London at lunchtime after a speech and a handful of questions 
  • His vocal supporters at the QEII centre in Westminster had already turned on Sky’s political editor Beth Rigby
  • She was heckled when she said he was a ‘corrosive’ figure and asked about his super-rich wife’s tax affairs 
  • Broadcasters’ live feed to the event also froze as Sunak was answering cutting off Ms Rigby’s microphone
  • Rishi Sunak was slammed today as he tried to flee his own Tory leadership campaign launch without facing heavy questioning and his supporters booed a TV reporter.

    The former chancellor tried to leave the event in central London at lunchtime after a speech and a handful of questions – four from broadcasters and one from a supporter – to the anger of newspaper journalists present. 

    Who is backing whom? 

    These are the candidates who appear to have reached the nominations threshold so far: 

    RISHI SUNAK – 45

    Dominic Raab, Grant Shapps, Angela Richardson, Mark Harper, Oliver Dowden, Mark Spencer, Robert Jenrick, Matt Hancock 

    PENNY MORDAUNT – 25

    David Davis, Andrea Leadsom, Maria Miller, Damian Collins, Harriet Baldwin

    LIZ TRUSS – 21

    Therese Coffey, Kwasi Kwarteng, James Cleverly, Nadine Dorries, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Simon Clarke

    TOM TUGENDHAT – 20

    Damian Green, John Stevenson, Caroline Nokes, Aaron Bell, Robert Largan, Stephen Hammond 

     

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    He eventually relented and game back to answer one more on defence spending and to deny claims that he will give a job to Dominic Cummings, the former No10 Svengali. 

    His vocal supporters at the QEII centre in Westminster had already turned on Sky’s political editor Beth Rigby. 

    She was heckled when she said he was a ‘corrosive’ figure and asked about his multi-millionaire wife’s tax affairs. 

    Akshata Murty was revealed earlier this year to be a non-dom taxpayer while living in taxpayer-funded accommodation in Downing Street, before pledging to pay full rates.

    The broadcasters’ live feed to the event also froze as Mr Sunak was answering the question, which also cut off Ms Rigby’s microphone.

    A second camera, believed to be Sky’s own, then cut in after a few seconds. But BBC viewers were taken away from the embarrassing line of questioning to a correspondent outside Parliament.

    None of the candidates launching their campaigns appeared willing to take much in the way of independent questioning today.

    Tom Tugendhat only took two questions at his launch, while Kemi Badenoch disappeared after taking five.  

    In other twists and turns in the fight for the soul of the Conservative Party today:

    • Former Cabinet minister David Davis has endorsed Ms Mordaunt after she topped a poll of activists on the ConservativeHome website. Although the survey is not scientific it is closely-watched by MPs and ministers; 
    • Ex-health secretary Matt Hancock has backed Mr Sunak saying he is ‘best-placed’ to ‘take the country through difficult times’;  
    • Mr Zahawi has insisted he has secured the 20 nominations needed to make the ballot, with allies saying he is also over the 30 mark;
    • Mr Javid’s allies say they are still confident of reaching the threshold and denied that he is about to withdraw and back Mr Sunak; 
    • Channel 4 will hold a Tory leadership debate with the remaining candidates on Friday at 7pm, before ITV’s version on Sunday at 7pm and a Sky News programme on Monday at 7pm; 
    • Tory grandees have cautioned that a bidding war between candidates pledging tax cuts could put the party’s reputation for economic management at risk;
    • Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has called for defence spending to be increased from 2 per cent to 3 per cent of GDP, echoing Jeremy Hunt’s position;   
    • Keir Starmer is pushing for a no-confidence vote in Boris Johnson‘s government to happen in Parliament tomorrow. 
    The former chancellor tried to leave the event in central London at lunchtime after a speech and a handful of questions from broadcasters, to the anger of newspaper journalists present.

    The former chancellor tried to leave the event in central London at lunchtime after a speech and a handful of questions from broadcasters, to the anger of newspaper journalists present.

    His supporters at the QEII centre in Westminster had already turned on Sky's political editor Beth Rigby. She was heckled when she said he was a 'corrosive' figure and asked about his multi-millionaire wife's tax affairs.

    His supporters at the QEII centre in Westminster had already turned on Sky’s political editor Beth Rigby. She was heckled when she said he was a ‘corrosive’ figure and asked about his multi-millionaire wife’s tax affairs.

    Mr Sunak had told the previous reporter he was not prepared to ‘demonise’ Boris Johnson in order to gain the Tory party leadership.

    In reply to ITV News he said that while Mr Johnson was ‘flawed’ and that he had often disagreed with him, he also had a ‘good heart’.

    Following up, Ms Rigby asked him: ‘The party has just ousted Boris Johnson on the basis of probity and conduct. You have a police fine too. And there are questions about your family avoiding millions of pounds in tax. And in the party you are seen as a corrosive figure. You are not a clean start, are you? 

    He insisted he was, and after her question he turned to leave the stage. 

    This prompted anger among reporters, with one saying that if he wanted to be PM he should be able to take more questions. 

    Liz Truss

    Nadhim Zahawi in Westminster today

    Contenders for the leadership of the Conservative Party have been out and about today, including Nadhim Zahawi (right) and Liz Truss (left)

    A ConservativeHome survey suggested that Mr Sunak would lose to his main rivals in a head-to-head run-off

    A ConservativeHome survey suggested that Mr Sunak would lose to his main rivals in a head-to-head run-off

    HOW THE TORY LEADERSHIP RACE WILL BE FOUGHT: MPS HAVE UNTIL TONIGHT TO GET 20 VOTES – OR BE KNOCKED OUT 

    The contest to be crowned the new Tory leader – and become Boris Johnson’s replacement as Prime Minister – will formally begin today.

    Sir Graham Brady, the chair of the Conservatives’ 1922 Committee, has revealed that the winner will be known on 5th September.

    But how will the party choose, between now and then, from the long list of contenders?

    Here’s how the election process will work…

    Today – Nominations open and close for the Tory leadership race. Candidates will have to submit a nomination by 6pm, including a proposer and a seconder and the names of 18 other Conservative MPs who are supporting them.

    Tomorrow – The first ballot of Tory MPs will take place between 1.30pm to 3.30pm, with a result to be announced later in the day. Any candidates who receive less than 30 votes in this first ballot will be automatically eliminated. If all candidates meet the 30-vote threshold, then the candidate with the lowest number of votes will be knocked out the contest.

    Thursday – A second ballot of Tory MPs will be held which will see the candidate with the lowest number of votes eliminated.

    Next week – Further rounds of ballots among Tory MPs will continue, as necessary, until the list of contenders is whittled down to a final two. The lowest-scoring candidate will drop out each time.

    21st July – MPs will head away from Westminster for their summer break, meaning this is the deadline for a final pairing to be decided in the parliamentary stage of the leadership election.

    Late July and August – CCHQ will assume responsibility for leadership election and will send out ballot papers to around 200,000 Conservative Party members. The Tory grassroots will be asked to decide between the final two candidates, with hustings events to be held across the UK.

    5th September –  The result of the membership ballot is announced, with the candidate receiving more than 50 per cent of the vote being declared the new Tory leader and Boris Johnson’s replacement as Prime Minister.

    6th September – The new Tory leader is likely to be formally appointed as PM during a visit to the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

    7th September – The new PM is set to be quizzed in the House of Commons in their first ever Prime Minister’s Questions.

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    Mr Sunak underlined his status as Tory leadership front runner today as more Cabinet big beasts backed him – with Priti Patel withdrawing from the battle as right-wingers struggle to stay in the contest.

    The Home Secretary announced she is not throwing her hat in the ring just hours before the deadline for getting the 20 nominations needed to feature in the first round of the contest.

    Ms Patel did not say who she will be backing, despite pleas from rivals on the Thatcherite right to unite behind one candidate. But there are initial signs that MPs who had been in her group are shifting to Liz Truss.

    Mr Sunak already appears to be well over the threshold as he formally launched his campaign this morning, introduced by deputy PM Dominic Raab and Grant Shapps.

    The former Chancellor again batted away calls for tax cuts before inflation is under control, saying ‘we need to have a grown up conversation’. At the event in Westminster, he also heaped praise on Boris Johnson, describing him as ‘one of the most remarkable people I have ever met’ who has a ‘good heart’ – but it was ‘not working’ any more.

    Mr Sunak – who only took a few questions from the media while journalists asking combative points were heckled by the crowd – said his plan was to ‘tackle inflation, grow the economy and cut taxes’. ‘I want to have a grown up conversation where I can tell you the truth,’ he said.

    Mr Raab said before the speech: ‘We need a leader who can win… he is the only one who can win.’ 

    Penny Mordaunt and Tom Tugendhat also seem to have reached nominations the mark, while Ms Truss is over the top after securing endorsements from Boris Johnson allies Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nadine Dorries – who declared their loyalty on the steps of Downing Street.

    However, other big names are struggling, with Jeremy Hunt, Nadhim Zahawi, Sajid Javid, Suella Braverman, and Kemi Badenoch all short of declared backers. 

    In news that will cause alarm in Mr Sunak’s camp, a ConservativeHome poll has found that he would lose to his main rivals in the run-off ballot of Tory members.    

    Ms Patel said in a statement: ‘I am grateful for the encouragement and support colleagues and Party members have offered me in recent days in suggesting that I enter the contest for the leadership of the Conservative Party. I will not be putting my name forward for the ballot of MPs.

    ‘As Home Secretary I have always put the security and safety of our country and the national interest first and my focus is to continue working to get more police on our streets, support our amazing security services to keep our country safe and control our borders.

    ‘As a lifelong and committed Conservative, I will always make the case for freedom, enterprise and opportunity and work with colleagues to deliver these values in Government. Like all Conservative MPs and Party members, I will be listening to cases being put forward by the candidates standing for the leadership of the Party and trust the contest will be conducted in a good spirit that brings our Party together.’

    Sir Graham Brady, the chair of the powerful 1922 committee, has announced that nominations will close at 6pm tonight, with the first vote to be held at 1.30pm tomorrow. 

    Even those who make the first ballot will need 30 MPs out of the 358 total to back to survive into the second round  on Thursday. 

    At least the lowest-placed contender will be eliminated in each ballot until two remain. They will then be put to party members in a postal ballot, with hustings held across the UK during August. 

    The new leader will be announced on September 5, becoming PM the following day. 

    At his launch, Mr Sunak delivered a sharp barb at his rivals, suggesting their tax plans are ‘not credible’ as he said he would only reduce them after inflation is under control.

    The former chancellor said: ‘It is not credible to promise lots more spending and lower taxes.

    ‘I had to make some of the most difficult choices of my life as chancellor, in particular how to deal with our debt and borrowing after Covid. I have never hidden away from those, I certainly won’t pretend now the choices I made and the things I voted for were somehow not necessary.

    ‘While that may be politically inconvenient for me, it is also the truth. As is the fact that once we’ve gripped inflation, I will get the tax burden down. It is a question of when, not if.

    Mr Sunak said that Mr Johnson is ‘flawed’ like all politicians and they often disagreed.

    But he added: ‘I will have no part in a rewriting of history that seeks to demonise Boris, exaggerate his faults or deny his efforts.

    ‘I am running a positive campaign focused on what my leadership can offer our party and our country.

    ‘I will not engage in the negativity you have seen and read in the media. If others wish to do that, then let them.

    ‘That is not who we are. We can be better than that.’

    He also flatly dismissed the idea he was in cahoots with maverick ex-No10 chief Dominic Cummings – as some rival camps have alleged.  

    ‘Dominic Cummings has had absolutely nothing to do with this campaign and will have absolutely nothing to do with any government that I’m privileged to lead,’ he said.

    ‘For the record, I’ve not communicated with Dominic Cummings since the day he left Downing Street.’

    But despite Mr Sunak’s slick campaign event, the ConservativeHome survey suggests he still has work to do to win over members.

    Although it is not scientific, the grassroots polls are closely watched.

    And they show Mr Sunak would lose to Ms Mordaunt by 58 per cent to 31 per cent, and Ms Truss by 51 per cent to 34 per cent.

    The only main contenders Mr Sunak had an advantage over were Mr Javid and Mr Tugendhat.

    The findings contrasted with an Opinium poll of Tory members for Channel 4 News, which found Mr Sunak would beat both Ms Truss and Ms Mordaunt in a run-off.

    Ms Truss has warned the Tory Right it risks handing Mr Sunak the keys to No10 unless it unites behind her. 

    The Foreign Secretary‘s allies urged her rivals on the Thatcherite wing of the party to end their campaigns and back her. 

    Ms Dorries and Mr Rees-Mogg said they are backing Ms Truss in the leadership contest as she is a ‘stronger Brexiteer’ than either of them.

    Speaking to reporters in Downing Street after a Cabinet meeting, Ms Dorries said: ‘I have sat with Liz in Cabinet now for some time.

    ‘[I’m] very aware that she’s probably a stronger Brexiteer than the both of us.

    ‘She has consistently argued for low tax policies and I’m particularly concerned about the 14 million people who voted for a manifesto and voted for a Government that the candidate that we select, for me it’s Liz who I’m going to back, will continue with those manifesto policies and will continue to deliver for the Government and the Conservative Party moving forward.’

    At a speech today, Mr Tugendhat promised to slash fuel duty by 10p if elected as prime minister.

    The Tory leadership candidate said: ‘I am here to make the case that our economy can only prosper if we believe that people—and not Westminster—know best how to spend their money.

    ‘I know the pain families are feeling now. That is why my first pledge is to take fuel duty down by 10p a litre.

    ‘My second is to reverse the national insurance rise.

    ‘This isn’t about percentages. It’s about jobs.

    ‘That’s why I didn’t vote for the increase then, and I wouldn’t now.’

    Mr Tugendhat has dismissed criticism of his lack of ministerial experience after Dominic Raab said it was ‘no time to learn on the job’.

    He said: ‘The reality is that the job of prime minister is unlike every other job in government. It’s not a management job, it’s not a departmental job. It’s a job that demands vision and leadership, it demands a willingness to serve and to throw everything in the duty of serving the British people.

    ‘This is no time to learn. What this is, is a time to look at a record of service and a record of delivery in some of the most difficult and trying conditions around the world, and to see that this isn’t learning on the job, this is putting all that experience to work on the job.’