Rishi Sunak is firmly placed as the candidate to beat in the race after he won the first round of voting on Wednesday.
Former finance minister Rishi Sunak enters a second round of voting on Thursday in the Conservative Party leadership election to determine the next British Prime Minister with a comfortable lead and has hit back at critics of his tax plans.
Sunak, 42, is firmly placed as the candidate to beat in the race after he won the first round of voting on Wednesday with 88 votes and then received the backing of former Cabinet minister Jeremy Hunt, who was last placed with 18 votes.
Tory members of Parliament will have their say at the ballot box again as the six remaining candidates – including Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt (67 votes), Foreign Secretary Liz Truss (50 votes), former minister Kemi Badenoch (40 votes), backbencher Tom Tugendhat (37 votes) and Suella Braverman (32 votes) – are whittled down further, with those with the least votes getting eliminated in round two.
“I think our number one economic priority is to tackle inflation and not make it worse. Inflation is the enemy and makes everybody poorer,” Sunak told the BBC when pushed on the issue of cutting taxes, which is seen as a decisive issue among the leadership contenders.
“I will get taxes down in this Parliament, but I’m going to do so responsibly. I don’t cut taxes to win elections, I win elections to cut taxes,” he said, in contrast to his nearest rivals who have made tax cut pledges already.
The British Indian ex-minister, who resigned as Chancellor and set off events in motion that ended in the resignation of Boris Johnson as prime minister last week, stressed that he is the “best person” to beat the Opposition Labour Party in the next general election – expected by 2024.
“I want to cut taxes and I will deliver tax cuts, but we will do that in a measured way. And the only way to really do that sustainably over time is to ensure that the Conservatives win the next general election. And I’m convinced that I’m the best person to beat (Labour leader) Keir Starmer and secure that election victory,” he said.
On being challenged that he would struggle to connect with the poverty and cost-of-living crisis facing millions across Britain, Sunak pointed to his record as Chancellor when he introduced measures over the pandemic to help struggling families cope with the lockdown.
“When this country was faced with one of the biggest challenges that we had seen, I stepped up and in a matter of weeks put together and delivered the furlough scheme, which protected over 10 million people’s jobs and livelihood. That’s an enormous amount of good for those people. I’m really proud of that achievement,” he said.
Sunak was also challenged over his long term commitment to Britain and where he would “stay and retire”, alluding to his US Green Card which he reportedly held on to months into his job in the UK Cabinet.
“I was living and working and studying (Stanford University) in America at the time, but I returned to the United Kingdom and decided to try and serve my country as an MP and then in government,” he told the BBC.
“And now hopefully if I’m fortunate enough as Prime Minister, and that’s because I believe I’m the best person to lead us through the challenges we face, do that in an honest and responsible way. But also, I know I’ve got the energy and the experience and the vision to grow our economy,” he said.
On being probed on his wider plans in government, Sunak confirmed that he was in favour of the immigration strategy to deport some illegal migrants to Rwanda in order to control the borders.
“I say that as the child and grandchild of immigrants. This country has a proud history of welcoming people, but it’s also right that we’re in control of who’s coming here. And, sadly, there is an illegal set of criminal gangs who are causing people to die in pursuit of coming here. We must stop that. The policy that we’ve put in place gives us the ability to do so,” he said.
Sunak has highlighted his immigrant background as the very “personal story” behind his leadership campaign, with a focus on his Indian maternal grandmother who migrated to the UK from Tanzania in the 1960s. He has used that as a pitch for the Conservative values of “hard work and fairness” that he hopes will connect with the party membership.
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