Britain’s next prime minister will take office amid turmoil: runaway inflation, a war in Ukraine, sour relations with China, a changing climate.
But not all of those issues are getting equal attention, with Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and former Treasury chief Rishi Sunak vying for the votes of some 180,000 Conservative Party members. One of them will be elected on September 5 to replace scandal-tainted Boris Johnson, who stepped down as party leader this month.
With ballots due to be mailed out next week, polls put Truss in the lead, and he won the endorsement of Britain’s respected Defense Secretary Ben Wallace on Friday.
This is the position of the candidates on key issues:
With Britain facing its biggest cost-of-living constraint for decades amid skyrocketing energy prices and 9.4% inflation, unsurprisingly, the economy has dominated the contest, and this is where the two candidates differ. plus.
Truss promises immediate tax cuts and says he will scrap a 1.25% income tax increase introduced by Sunak to help fund the nation’s health and social care, and cancel a planned corporate tax increase. She says that she will finance the cuts through loans.
Sunak says he would control inflation before cutting taxes, although this week he pledged to eliminate sales tax on home energy bills for a year.
Both claim moral superiority. Truss says raising taxes in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis is “morally wrong,” while Sunak says it’s “not moral” to pass bills on to future generations.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies, an independent think tank, notes that “candidates have been less forthcoming about their public spending intentions.” They have made little mention of Johnson’s repeated promises to channel investment into deprived areas of central and northern England that lag behind the wealthier south. The IFS said Truss’s plans are likely to bring austerity, because “in the end, lower taxes mean less spending.”
Both candidates have doubled down on the Johnson government’s controversial plan to send some asylum seekers arriving in the UK on a one-way trip to Rwanda.
Under an agreement between the two countries, the migrants will be considered for asylum in the East African nation, rather than the UK. The British government says the policy will deter people-smuggling gangs transporting people across the English Channel, but human rights groups say it is unethical, illegal and a waste of taxpayers’ money.
The all-party House of Commons Home Affairs Committee concluded that “the asylum deal with Rwanda so far shows no evidence of being the deterrent it purports to be”. Small ships continue to cross the Channel, no one has yet been sent to Rwanda and the policy is being challenged in British courts.
However, Truss has suggested that he could expand the program to other countries. Sunak says he will stick to the Rwanda policy and could limit the number of refugees admitted to the UK each year.
When Britain voted on whether to leave the European Union in 2016, Sunak and Truss were on opposite sides. Sunak was in favor of “exit”, while Truss argued that the UK should remain in the bloc.
Now that Britain is gone, they are both ardent supporters of Brexit. They say they will take advantage of the economic opportunities that Brexit brings, but have not given many details about what they are. Both deny Brexit was responsible for the hours-long delays travelers and truckers faced at the port of Dover last week, though many economists say new barriers to trade and travel are clearly a factor.
Truss and Sunak will press ahead with a plan to rip up parts of the UK-EU Brexit treaty that governs trade with Northern Ireland, a move that has triggered legal action by the EU and could escalate into a trade war.
Many Conservatives see Sunak as softer on the issue because, as Treasury chief, he was worried about the potential damage to the British economy. The less emollient Truss has the support of hard-line Conservative Brexiteers, despite his past as “permanent”.
Both candidates promise to meet the British government’s goal of reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050, but green issues have featured little in the campaign.
Sunak has talked about using technology and building more offshore wind farms. Truss says he will eliminate a “green tax” on energy bills that is used to fund renewable energy projects, something critics say will slow progress toward net zero.
Greenpeace and other environmental groups have criticized the lack of focus on energy and climate issues in the campaign, especially as Britain experienced 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) for the first time this month.
RUSSIA AND CHINA
Both candidates say they will continue the strong support for Ukraine that has made Johnson more popular in Kyiv than in London. Britain has given Ukraine 4 billion pounds ($5 billion) in military and humanitarian aid to help it fight Russia’s invasion and is training Ukrainian troops on British soil.
Sunak and Truss promise Britain’s support will not wane if they take over, and both say they will keep defense spending above the NATO-recommended 2 percent of GDP. Truss has pledged to go further and raise it to 3 percent by 2030.
Wallace, the defense secretary, said Truss’s international experience and commitment to military spending gave him “the edge.”
Both candidates are also aggressive towards China, although Truss’s criticisms are stronger. As foreign secretary, she has called for a “freedom net” to counter China’s growing political and economic influence, and opposes Chinese investment in UK infrastructure projects such as nuclear power plants.
As finance minister, Sunak’s earlier comments on China have emphasized the importance of maintaining a productive economic relationship. He has hardened his tone, calling China the “greatest long-term threat to Britain”. He says that if he is elected he will close all 30 Beijing-funded Confucius Institutes in Britain.
Beijing is not impressed by the rhetoric of both candidates. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian this week urged British politicians not to “exaggerate the so-called threat from China”.
“Such irresponsible comments will not help solve their own problems,” he said.