Rishi Sunak says ‘forces that be’ are trying to block his way to No 10

Rishi Sunak has accused “the forces that be” of trying to secure a coronation for his Tory leadership rival Liz Truss, in a clear sign that he believes Boris Johnson is plotting to block his bid to reach 10 Downing Street.

The former chancellor refused to name those he suspects of conspiring against him, but the prime minister has made no secret of his determination not to be succeeded by Sunak, whose resignation triggered the process leading to Mr Johnson’s demise as prime minister.

In what amounted to a scathing denunciation of Johnson’s legacy, Mr Sunak today said he would put the UK on “crisis footing” from day one as prime minister to deal with what he described as a national emergency over the economy, NHS backlogs and unauthorised migration.

And he sought to draw a line between himself and both Mr Johnson and Ms Truss by saying that he would offer “moral courage” as leader of the nation.

In his first speech since joining Ms Truss on the ballot paper for the final vote by around 160,000 Tory members to choose the next prime minister , Mr Sunak said his leadership rival’s plans for £30bn of tax cuts were “immoral” and would cost people their jobs and homes.

He effectively accused Ms Truss of dishonesty over the risk that immediate tax cuts would drive up inflation and mortgage interest rates.

And he implied the NHS was not safe in her hands because of her plan to reverse his 1.25 per cent hike in National Insurance contributions to pay for health and social care.

For the first time, the victor of the Tory MPs’ ballots at Westminster admitted that he was the “underdog” in the vote of around 160,000 Conservative Party members who will choose the successor to Boris Johnson as PM.

“The forces that be want this to be a coronation for the other candidate,” said Sunak. “But I think members want a choice and they are prepared to listen.”

“In the coming days they will see that I don’t just offer change, I don’t just offer grip, I’m offering hope. We can be better.”

In a signal to grassroots Tories, he chose party icon Margaret Thatcher’s hometown of Grantham to deliver his speech, and described his economic approach as “common-sense Thatcherism”.

Mr Sunak defended his NI hike, saying: “I have taken a lot of political pain to make sure the NHS has what it needs and I’m the candidate who can say `The NHS is safe in my hands’.”

And he poured scorn on Ms Truss’s promise to raise spending on defence to 3 per cent of GDP by the end of the decade, saying that “arbitrary” figures were no substitute for “providing the military with the resources it needs”.

After hardline Brexiteers lined up behind Truss in the MPs’ round of voting, Mr Sunak hit out at her record of campaigning and voting for Remain in the 2016 referendum.

He won cheers from supporters by saying: “If we are to deliver on the promise of Brexit, then we’re going to need someone who actually understands Brexit, believes in Brexit, voted for Brexit.”

But the centre of his assault on the foreign secretary – who led him by 62 per cent to 38 in a recent poll of party members – was focused on her plans to scrap the NI rise, suspend green levies on energy bills and ditch his planned increase in corporation tax from 19 to 25 per cent.

“We have to tell the truth about the cost of living,” he said.

“Rising inflation is the enemy that makes everyone poorer and puts at risk your homes and your savings. And we have to tell the truth about tax.

“I will not put money back in your pocket knowing that rising inflation will only whip it straight back out.”

Seeking to elevate his row with Truss over tax above the level of a simple policy disagreement, he said: “There is a core to this campaign that stands us apart, that represents the best of us in the most testing of times.

“And that is moral courage.

“It may seem trite to say it, but that’s only because it is so rare in our politics – The moral courage to tell the truth, even if it hurts me, the moral courage to raise issues even if they are uncomfortable and the moral courage to rise above the smears and the hatred no matter how baseless or unfair.”

A spokesperson for Ms Truss responded: “Liz‘s plans for tax cuts will reward people for their hard work and effort, allowing them to keep more of their hard-earned money.

“You cannot tax your way to growth. We have the highest tax burden since the 1940s and as prime minister Liz will take immediate action to prioritise growth and cut taxes.

“We can’t continue with a business-as-usual approach on the economy that is failing to deliver for the British people.”