Truss and Sunak trade blows on immigration and China ahead of TV debate

The two candidates for the Conservative leadership are embroiled in bitter clashes over immigration, China and tax cuts ahead of a televised debate on Monday night.

Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak will enter the BBC’s first live TV debate on Monday, after a weekend in which both camps exchanged increasingly personal attacks.

Allies of the foreign secretary were quick to attack the former foreign minister for his warning that China poses the “greatest long-term threat to Britain”.

In a hardening of tone against China, Sunak vowed to close all 30 of the country’s Confucius Institutes in the UK.

Conservative leadership chart

(PA charts)

Funded by the Chinese government, they are ostensibly centers of culture and language, but critics have branded them propaganda tools amid worsening relations between the West and China.

Sunak accused China of “stealing our technology and infiltrating our universities”, promising to work with US President Joe Biden to take on China at home and abroad.

But those claims were met with skepticism by Truss’ supporters, with former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith calling the announcement “surprising”.

Sir Iain, co-chair of the interparliamentary alliance on China, said: “Over the past two years, the Treasury has pushed hard for an economic deal with China. This despite China sanctioning me and four UK MPs.

“Despite China brutally cracking down on advocates of peaceful democracy in Hong Kong, threatening Taiwan, illegally occupying the South China Sea, committing genocide against the Uighurs, and increasing its influence in our universities.

“After all this litany, I have a simple question, where have you been for the past two years?”

A spokesperson for Truss said: “Liz has strengthened Britain’s stance on China since becoming Foreign Secretary and has helped to lead the international response to increased Chinese aggression.

“This will only continue when she becomes prime minister and looks to expand her network of freedom across the world.”

Sunak has also come under pressure from his rival over his strategy to combat illegal migration as he seeks to win over Conservative voters who will decide the next Conservative leader.

Calling the current system “broken,” he offered a 10-point plan on Sunday that included a commitment to a narrower definition of who qualifies for asylum compared to that of the ECHR, with enhanced powers to detain, identify and monitor migrants. illegal.

Sunak, who was campaigning on Sunday, also promised to give Parliament control over who comes to the UK, creating an annual cap on the number of refugees accepted each year, although it could be changed in case of sudden emergencies. .

But those proposals were rejected by Truss’s allies, who raised questions about Sunak’s proposals, arguing that it was unclear how the refugee quota would work and suggesting that some of his plans amounted to a “rebrand”.

Truss’s allies also questioned a suggestion by Sunak that illegal immigrants could be housed on cruise ships, something Truss’ camp suggested would be arbitrary detention and a violation of national and international law.

Sunak sought to defend his proposals on Sunday afternoon, telling the BBC that fighting illegal migration was a “priority” for him and that “no option should be off the table”.

But he failed to give a clear guarantee that his policy proposals would be legal.

“What we need to do is be very honest about the challenges that the ECHR, these European laws, have in our ability to deal with this problem.

Truss’ campaign had said that as prime minister she would increase the UK Border Force’s frontline by 20% and double the Maritime Border Force’s personnel levels, with Truss claiming that her plan to combat the Illegal migration would be given a strong legal basis by the UK’s new Bill of Rights.

Both candidates’ plans have sparked anger in some quarters, with Oxfam labeling any plan to link UK aid payments to countries’ cooperation with migrant removals “cruel” and Amnesty International saying that doing politics just to please Conservative members caused “chaos”. and delays”.

Elsewhere, Truss has revealed plans to boost the UK’s growth rates with “fat-filled free ports”, a move that could be seen as an attempt to steal a march on Sunak, who has been an advocate of free ports since his days. as a backbench. congressperson.

Launched as the cornerstone of its tax-cutting economic vision, Truss’s campaign said the plans would turn derelict land and other sites into “investment zones.”

Liz Truss

Liz Truss speaking to supporters during a visit to Ashley House, Marden, Kent (James Manning/PA)

Meanwhile, Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer will use a speech in Liverpool on Monday to present his party’s “growth, growth, growth” vision.

In the speech, he is expected to predict more “Thatcherite cosplays” from Sunak and Truss when they meet at the BBC studios on Monday, the first of three performances in the coming days.

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