Liz Truss has branded proposals to agree support for rising energy bills with the Government and Rishi Sunak before the Tory leadership contest is over as “bizarre”.
The front runner in the race to succeed Boris Johnson as prime minister made the comments as she and her opponent faced growing calls to spell out how they will deal with a spike in energy prices.
Mr Sunak said he would welcome a meeting to agree emergency support ahead of the winter, but Ms Truss branded the proposal a “kangaroo committee” and ruled out widespread cash handouts to deal with the cost-of-living crisis as “Gordon Brown economics”.
The two candidates vying to be the next prime minister have faced growing calls to address the rising cost of living after consultancy Cornwall Insight forecast that average bills could hit about £3,582 in October, up from £1,971 today, before topping £4,200 in the new year.
Mr Sunak and Ms Truss will face further scrutiny over their plans for the future of the UK on Wednesday, with Mr Sunak due to be interviewed on BBC One, while Ms Truss will take questions from an audience of GB News viewers in Greater Manchester.
Boris Johnson meanwhile declared he is “absolutely confident” that his successor as prime minister “will have the fiscal firepower and the headroom to continue to continue to look after people”.
At a leadership hustings in Darlington on Tuesday, Ms Truss said that she “fundamentally” disagrees with “putting up taxes and then also giving out benefits” to help with the rising cost of living.
Asked about what she would do to deal with rising fuel prices, the South West Norfolk MP told the hustings audience: “I understand people are struggling with their bills on fuel and food but the first thing we should do as Conservatives is help people have more of their own money.
“What I don’t support is taking money off people in tax and then giving it back to them in handouts. That to me is Gordon Brown economics.”
Asked if she would get in a room with the Prime Minister and her leadership rival to look at providing additional support, Ms Truss said her focus in Government is on her role as Foreign Secretary.
She said the Prime Minister and Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi are “capable people, capable of making these decisions”, adding “this kangaroo committee you’re proposing sounds bizarre”.
It follows calls from Confederation of British Industry (CBI) for the Prime Minister and the two contenders to replace him to “come together to agree a common pledge to support people”.
Richmond MP Mr Sunak said he was “happy” take part in such a meeting, but added: “If you only want to help these people with tax cuts – I’m struggling to see how it’s possible.
“So we can get in a room all you want, but at the end of the day that policy is not going to work.
“So if you can get Liz to change her mind on that when she talks to you I’m very happy to get in the room and we can hammer this out.”
The former chancellor also suggested he would not offer further cash payments to every household and would instead target support at the most vulnerable.
Mr Sunak added: “The only way to help them is with direct support because tax cuts alone are not much good if you’re a pensioner who is not earning any extra money.”
Asked if he is planning support similar to earlier plans of providing £400 to every household regardless of their income, he said: “No, because I think what we need to do is target our support for the most vulnerable.”
Speaking at a Downing Street reception on Tuesday, Mr Johnson cracked jokes about it being one of his last events in the garden at Number 10, and the next prime minister being either a man or a woman.
He added: “And whoever he or she may be, they, I’m absolutely certain, will be wanting to make some more announcements in September/October about what we’re going to do further to help people in the next period in December/ January and I just want you to know that I’m absolutely confident that we will have the fiscal firepower and the headroom to continue to continue to look after people as we’ve done throughout.”