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Rishi Sunak will face two opponents in the Tory leadership contest: Liz Truss and Boris Johnson

The Prime Minister and his allies will use the Tory leadership contest to cast the former chancellor as a traitor.

By Rachel Wearmouth

Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak have emerged victorious in the race to be the final two Tory leadership contenders, meaning a battle royale beckons in the fight to be the UK’s next Prime Minister. 

Penny Mordaunt came close to pipping the foreign secretary to the post for second place, with 105 votes to Truss’s 113. Sunak, meanwhile, was far ahead with the backing of 137 MPs. But it is now the views of around 160,000 Conservative Party members that matter, with the result due to be announced on 5 September. 

Truss is the radical in the race, pledging immediate tax cuts and a major departure from the austere path Sunak set the UK on after the Covid-era spending. She will argue that the highest tax burden for 70 years is stifling growth and exacerbating the cost-of-living crisis, and note that the UK’s national debt is lower than competitors such as the US and Japan. 

[See also: Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss are struggling to convince Red Wall and Blue Wall voters]

Sunak, whose support plummeted among Tory members during his chancellorship, will make the case for fiscal conservatism and argue that higher taxes are needed to fund public services buckling under backlog pressures. His attack lines against Truss were given a run-out during the last TV debate, when he accused the Foreign Secretary of “fantasy economics” and “socialism”. 

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Given Tory members’ antipathy to higher taxes, Sunak faces an uphill struggle. As the only pro-Brexit candidate, he will hope the party’s devotion to the cause of leaving the EU is still a powerful currency. But Truss, whose allies say has the zeal of a convert over Brexit, has a secret weapon: Boris Johnson

The outgoing PM, who is able to charm the party membership better than most, made clear at his final PMQs that he felt betrayed by the former occupant of No 11, telling MPs: “I love the Treasury, but remember if we’d always listened to the Treasury we wouldn’t have built the M25 or the Channel Tunnel.” 

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Watch Boris Johnson’s final statement at his last PMQs as Prime Minister here

Johnson allies have briefed that they believe Sunak is a “snake” and responsible for hastening the PM’s exit. A wounded animal can be a dangerous beast and Johnson could do enormous damage during the long summer of hustings which will now follow.

[See also: Will Liz Truss be the next Prime Minister?]