The row appeared to ignite an already tense leadership contest which had seen the pair come to verbal blows previously on their different tax policies.
This included Ms Truss of trashing Mr Sunak’s record as Chancellor and saying he had “produced no economic growth”, as well as broken an election pledge to raise National Insurance.
He responded – calling her tax cut plans “immoral.”
But the row over the public sector pay and alleged U-turns took the bitterness between the two camps to new levels.
A Truss campaign source said: “This is all a bit rich coming from Sunak’s backers when they stayed schtum on the steady stream of U-turns from Rishi over the recent weeks. He’s flip-flopped on tax cuts, VAT, grammar schools, China, EU regulations, Northern Ireland protocol and planning to name a few.”
It came with a briefing showing nine alleged U-turns made by Mr Sunak over recent weeks as he vied to replace Boris Johnson
But in response the Sunak team was dismissive, suggesting that Ms Truss’ blunders on public sector pay showed that her campaign is falling apart.
A source described the briefing as “a valiant attempt to divert attention from their chaotic morning but none of this is new…and some factually inaccurate.”
The row has appeared to widen the gap between the two sides and rase serious questions of a long term split in the Conservative Party when the contest is over on September 5.
This is despite both saying they would want the other in their cabinets.
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It also appears to have confirmed the worst fears of many Tory MPs who warned that a “blue on blue” fight would only be beneficial for Labour.
The briefing document laid out a series of where Mr Sunak is alleged to have U-turned. It said:
1. Sunak’s VAT and energy U-turn
On the campaign trail Rishi has proposed a VAT cut on energy. “That’s why, with the price cap expected to rise above £3,000 in October, I will move immediately to scrap VAT on everyone’s domestic energy bills for the next year” (Rishi Sunak, Rishi Sunak’s “Winter Plan” To Deal With Inflation & Cost Of Living Emergency).
-But in office he argued against a VAT cut on energy. “I know that some in this House have argued for a cut in VAT on energy. However, that policy would disproportionately benefit wealthier households” (Hansard, 3 February 2022).
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2. Sunak’s High Tax U-turn
Speaking to Conservative Party members Rishi promised that he was a ‘low tax conservative’. He said in a speech to Conservative Party members last year that ‘for the record, I’m a low tax Conservative’ (Mirror, 4 October 2021).
But in office he saddled the UK with the highest tax burden since the 1940s and called tax cuts ‘immoral’. ‘I do also believe that it’s immoral because there is nothing noble or good about wracking up bills on the country’s credit card that we then pass on to our children and grandchildren’ (Huffington Post, 23 July).
3. Sunak’s Welfare U-turn
Rishi said he would increase the number of hours people on benefits have to look for work. ‘He will expand the labour force by tightening up the rules on out-of-work benefits. He will double the number of hours someone on welfare has to work a week’ (Rishi Sunak, Rishi Sunak’s “Winter Plan” To Deal With Inflation & Cost Of Living Emergency).
Rishi blocked the move just months ago. Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said: ‘DWP will shortly change the rules . . . DWP had hoped to get this underway earlier this year but unfortunately was blocked by the former Chancellor’ (Telegraph, 26 July 2022).
4. Sunak’s China U-turn
When campaigning, Rishi has said that China is Britain’s Number one threat. Politico reported that: ‘Sunak the Number Ten contender calls China “our number one threat.”’ (Politico, 28 July 2022).
But as Chancellor, Sunak was pursuing a 47-page deal with China to ‘deepen trade links’. ‘Rishi Sunak was close to signing a new economic agreement with China which aimed to “deepen trade links” and make the UK the “market of choice” for Chinese companies, a leaked Treasury document suggests’ (The Times, 27 July 2022).
5. Sunak’s EU Regulation U-Turn
Rishi now says he wants to move faster to scrap EU regulation. ‘As prime minister, I would go further and faster in using the freedoms Brexit has given us to cut the mass of EU regulations and bureaucracy holding back our growth’ (Daily Mail, 17 July 2022).
However his Treasury attempted to protect EU law from abolition. ‘Documents seen by Bloomberg show that a senior Treasury official working for Sunak when he was still Chancellor of the Exchequer privately demanded that EU-derived tax laws be exempted from legislation to scrap so-called retained EU law, or REUL’ (Bloomberg, 17 July 2022).
6. Sunak’s Northern Ireland Protocol Bill U-Turn
Rishi praised the NIP Bill as the way to fix the issues in Northern Ireland. Rishi:We don’t need to have a border in Northern Ireland, Q: But it’s not working currently? Rishi: And that’s what we need to fix, and we will fix it Q: And how? Rishi: We’ve got a bill in Parliament that will fix it Q:That you’re confident will work Rishi: Yes (Conservative Hustings Leeds, 28 July 2022).
– But Rishi reportedly put up ‘huge resistance’ to the Northern Ireland protocol Bill to ‘keep the EU happy’. ‘The Telegraph has reported claims from Brandon Lewis that the Treasury under Mr Sunak put up “huge resistance” to efforts to override the Northern Ireland Protocol and was more focused on trying to “keep the EU happy”’ (Belfast Telegraph, 30 July 2022).
7. Sunak’s Planning U-Turn:
Rishi said he doesn’t want to see development on the Green Belt. ‘Green belt land is extremely precious in the UK. Over the last few years, we’ve seen too many examples of local councils circumventing the views of residents by taking land out of the green belt for development, but I will put a stop to it’ (Telegraph, 28 July 2022).
But Sunak permitted development on the Green Belt as a minister in 2018. As Minister for Local Government, Sunak was responsible for green spaces from 2018-2019. During that period, he allowed the 2018 National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) which permits construction on the Green Belt. (NPPF 2018, National Archives)
8. Sunak’s Grammar Schools U-Turn:
Speaking to Conservative members he said he supported the return of grammar schools. When asked whether he supported the return of grammar schools he responded, ‘yes’ (Conservative Party, Leeds Leadership Husting, 28 July 2022).
But just days earlier he told journalists that he would not overturn the ban on new grammar schools. The Telegraph reported: ‘Mr Sunak discussed other policy positions, indicating that he would not lift the ban on new grammar schools’ (Daily Telegraph, 12 July 2022).
9. Sunak’s Northern Powerhouse Rail U-Turn
Rishi backed Ben Houchen’s five-point levelling up plan. This included a commitment to ‘the full construction of Northern Powerhouse Rail’ (Twitter, Ben Houchen, 27 July 2022; Northern Eco, 11 July 2022).
Then days later, he refused to back the project in its entirety. He instead committed to ‘work with Mr Houchen and other local leaders on the future of transport investments, including Northern Powerhouse Rail, which have the potential to deliver new capacity and faster journey times (Twitter, Ben Houchen, 27 July 2022; Chronicle Live, 16 July 2022).
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