Liz Truss has used her latest pitch to the Tory party membership to warn against talking the UK into a recession, a day after the Bank of England forecast the economy will soon suffer a five-quarter recession.
Speaking at the Tory party leadership hustings in Eastbourne, Truss suggested her plans for immediate tax cuts if she becomes prime minister could avert recession.
She said: “I know there are difficult forecasts out there, but forecasts are not destiny. And what we shouldn’t be doing is talking ourselves into a recession. We should be keeping taxes low.”
She added: “We can create the British version of Silicon Valley. We can create real opportunities.”
During an appearance that was twice interrupted by climate activists, Truss also expressed support for fracking, as well as caution about the government’s net zero target and a crackdown against Extinction Rebellion protests.
To cheers from the audience she said: “I want us to frack in parts of the country where there’s local support, so that we can get the energy security we need.”
She was urged by an audience member to “examine the scientific group-think for net zero”. Truss replied: “We do need to transition to net zero, but I want to do so in a way that doesn’t clobber households and doesn’t clobber businesses. That’s why I’d have immediate moratorium on the green energy levy, while we look at better ways of delivering net zero using private sector innovation and technology to deliver.”
After being heckled by climate activists Truss said: “I will make sure that militant activists such as Extinction Rebellion are not able to disrupt ordinary people who work hard.”
Rishi Sunak was more enthusiastic about net zero, but also cautious. He again said the only political issue his two young daughters asked him about was the environment. The former chancellor said: “I don’t want to let them down, first and foremost. You’ve heard me talk passionately about the public finances, the borrowing and the debt that we leave for our kids and our grandkids. I’m equally passionate about the environment that we live in, because we’re Conservatives.”
He added: “I do believe in our net zero target. I want us to get there in a measured way because there is no point in us racing there harder and faster than any other country because that will just both impoverish us.”
On the economy, the former chancellor said that unless inflation is under control, “we can kiss goodbye to winning that next election”.
Asked by the host and former Downing Street advisor Jimmy McLoughlin what his pitch to win a fifth term is going to be, Sunak said his first priority would be tackling inflation.
He said: “As the Bank of England said, they are worried about inflation becoming embedded, then there’s no hope that we’re going to win that next election. Absolutely none.
He added: “If we don’t get a grip of this thing and get a grip of it fast, then we can kiss goodbye to winning that next election. So the first thing to put ourselves in a position to win is to get through inflation and get through it quickly and not do things worse.”
Truss, the frontrunner in the race, was asked to identify Sunak’s main strengths. She replied: “He’s a very intelligent person. He’s a very competent minister. And I would be very pleased that if I’m successful that he would come with me in our team.”
Asked the same question of Truss, Sunak said: “Liz is great at explaining Conservative values.”
Truss described her membership of the Liberal Democrats as a “teenage misadventure”, adding: “Some people have you know, sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. I was in the Liberal Democrats.”
And she praised the outgoing prime minister, saying: “Boris Johnson is hugely respected in Ukraine. He has a street and a croissant named after him and I don’t think many international leaders have achieved that.”