Liz Truss has said an £8.8billion black hole in her savings budget caused by her abandonment of a policy of cutting public sector wages was not among her ‘core costs’ to fund a range of spending commitments, as she suggested the policy had been a “mistake”.
She also defended her stance on Brexit as a former supporter, saying the disruption she worried about before the referendum had not happened, despite long queues recently seen at Channel crossings in start of school holidays.
Asked for the first time in front of Tory MPs about a controversial policy she was forced to back out of earlier this week, the frontrunner in the Tory leadership race said she had never had the intention to reduce the salaries of teachers and nurses.
She made the comments as her campaign announced a policy on Monday night to cut spending on civil service staff outside London.
“It has been misinterpreted… by the media,” Truss told a crowd of Tory members in Cardiff, for the third election campaign.
“It was never intended to apply to nurses, doctors and teachers. So I wanted to clear up the matter right away. And I was very clear. We are not moving forward with this policy.
“It was not a central part of my political platform. And I have been clear that this is not happening.
Truss, whose campaign received a boost earlier Wednesday with the backing of former health secretary Sajid Javid, was pressed on how she would make up the shortfall of what her campaign estimated to be worth 8, £8 billion in savings. Truss said, “It’s not part of my core costs.”
She said her financial pledges scrap the National Insurance hike, keep corporation tax low and put a temporary moratorium on the green tax, which adds to national energy bills.
“These policies will cost around £30bn and will be funded from general taxation,” she said.
“And we may still see the debt go down after three years. Now, the policy you refer to was something that was much longer term. It was not the immediate term. But as I said, we are not moving forward.
“That’s not happening and I’ve been very clear about that. I’m someone who, when things are misinterpreted, when mistakes are made, I’m honest about it.
His rival, Rishi Sunak, said the worker pay cut was unconservative and he was glad Truss had a change of heart.
“I don’t think launching a series of unfunded pledges costing tens and tens of millions of pounds is the sensible thing to do,” he said.
Sunak said cutting taxes too quickly with unfettered spending commitments “risks making the situation worse” and “risks it lasting much longer.”
He won the support of two former ministers who served under Margaret Thatcher.
Michael Howard, a former leader of the Conservative Party, introduced Sunak on Wednesday night, saying Thatcher hated inflation, increased borrowing, unfunded tax cuts and those who told people what they wanted to hear instead only the truth. “The same goes for Rishi Sunak,” he repeated several times.
Nigel Lawson, Thatcher’s former chancellor, said that Ted Heath’s “race to growth” policies had contributed to the spiraling inflation of the 1970s and that Truss’s promises “sounded uncomfortably faux pas of the Conservative government of 50 years ago”.
Elsewhere during the Cardiff roundups, Sunak appeared open to the removal of inheritance tax, telling a member of the public: ‘It’s something we should be looking at.’
He praised Truss, saying they were “part of the same family” and whoever won would remember that his real opponent was Keir Starmer.
Meanwhile, Truss doubled down on his criticism of Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, accusing him of being “grossly irresponsible” by using “all the resources” of the Scottish Government to “run a campaign for independence – grossly irresponsible”.
She also turned her fire on Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford, calling the Labor politician a ‘low-energy version of Jeremy Corbyn’.
In her own bid to head off further blue-on-blue attacks, Truss said she wished she’d been on fewer televised debates to prevent Conservative leadership candidates airing their “dirty laundry in public”.
Asked about her former Liberal Democrat membership and support for staying, Truss said: ‘I’ve always said if we weren’t in the European Union I wouldn’t want to join. But I was concerned about some of the disturbances. The fact is that there was no disruption. And since the Brexit vote, I have done more than most people in government to seize the opportunities of Brexit.
Voting in the leadership race has been underway for about a month, with the winner due to be announced on September 5.