Ben Wallace attacks Rishi Sunak’s cabinet resignation after backing Truss

The British public would never have forgiven the Conservatives if the financial markets had crashed after Rishi Sunak quit as chancellor, Ben Wallace has said as he stepped up attacks on the Tory leadership candidate after endorsing his rival Liz Truss.

Wallace, the defence secretary, also suggested he was throwing his weight behind Truss because she recognised that the “threats we face every day” needed to be “funded properly”.

Speaking after coming out for Truss overnight in an article for the Times, Wallace continued to go on the offensive against her opponent, telling Sky News that Sunak’s decision to cut entrepreneurs’ relief when he was chancellor was not a way to create “either wealth or indeed growth”.

Sunak was the second senior cabinet minister to resign from Boris Johnson’s government this month, after Sajid Javid, triggering Johnson’s downfall a few days later. Allies of Johnson blame Sunak more than anyone else for his departure.

Wallace contrasted his own decision and that of the home secretary, Priti Patel, to stay in their posts with Sunak and others’ resignations.

“What if the markets had crashed? What if the home secretary had done that and there had been a terrorist attack? The public would never forgive us,” Wallace told Sky News.

He appeared to echo criticism of Sunak’s record on defence spending. As chancellor, Sunak reportedly resisted pressure for a big increase in UK defence spending in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Wallace said: “I am the secretary of state for defence, I want to find a candidate that’s going to do right by the department and recognise that the threats we face every day are very real and are growing and that they need to be funded properly.”

In a thinly veiled swipe at Sunak, Wallace wrote in the Times that Truss was “a winner not because she’s a slick salesperson but because she is authentic”.

The two candidates faced a grilling from voters in Leeds on Thursday in the first official hustings with Tory members, where tax continued to be a significant dividing line between them.

Sunak implicitly criticised Truss by saying he would not “embark on a spree, borrowing tens and tens of billions of pounds of unfunded promises and put them on the country’s credit card”.

Truss criticised windfall taxes, which Sunak imposed on energy companies as a one-off as chancellor. She said: “I don’t believe in windfall taxes, because they put off future investment. What we should be doing is encouraging Shell and other companies to invest in the United Kingdom, because we need to get our productivity up, we need capital investment.”

Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss questioned by Tory party members in first hustings – video highlights

Sunak said he would back the creation of new grammar schools if he becomes prime minister. He used his opening speech at the debate in Leeds to say he would create “a Britain where the birthright of every child is a world-class education”.

Asked by the presenter Nick Ferrari to give a yes/no answer to the question of whether he would bring back grammar schools, Sunak – who attended one of the UK’s most expensive public schools – said: “Yes.”

He added: “I believe in educational excellence, I believe education is the most powerful way that we can transform people’s lives. But I also think there’s lots we can do with the school system as we have it.”

Some Conservative MPs have long hankered after the return of grammar schools, despite evidence that they tend to disproportionately benefit the children of wealthier families.

The Guardian