Rayner accuses Tory leadership hopefuls of “hiding” as they pull out of debates

Elliot Chappell

Angela Rayner has accused candidates in the Tory contest to find a replacement for Boris Johnson of “hiding from scrutiny” after a televised debate was cancelled following the refusal of two of the hopefuls to attend the event.

Sky News cancelled what would have been the third live TV debate between Conservative leadership candidates this morning after Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak pulled out of the event. Channel 4 and ITV hosted debates over the weekend.

Sky News said in a statement today that “Conservative MPs are said to be concerned about the damage the debates are doing to the image of the Conservative party, exposing disagreements and splits within the party”.

Responding to the announcement, Rayner said: “The country deserves better than Tory candidates hiding from scrutiny simply because their first two performances have shown they would be a danger to the economy and the future of the UK.

“This is a hopelessly divided Tory party, one that has racked up over £300bn in unfunded promises and yet still has no plan to get to grips with their cost of living crisis.

“Only a Labour government can give Britain the fresh start it needs. This Conservative ‘leadership’ contest is so embarrassing they’ve cancelled the debate – so you can’t see them fighting like rats in a sack.”

The leadership election was triggered when Boris Johnson announced he would be standing down as leader and Prime Minister. MPs have whittled down the initial list of 11 candidates to five through a series of ballots so far.

The five remaining leadership candidates – Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss, Tom Tugendhat, Penny Mordaunt and Kemi Badenoch – took part in debates on Friday and Sunday evenings. MPs will continue voting this week until two candidates remain. They will then be put to the Tory Party membership before the result is announced in September.

In the last round of voting by Conservative MPs, Sunak was backed by 101 of his colleagues, Mordaunt by 83, Truss by 64, Badenoch by 49 and Tugendhat by 32. It is thought that Tugendhat will be eliminated in the next vote, this afternoon.

A source in Sunak’s campaign had said earlier today that the former Chancellor would be “very happy to do more debates if we are lucky enough to get to the next stage”, including participating in Sky News’ scheduled event.

Truss’ team had said she was “unlikely” to take part if all other candidates did not. A spokesperson for Mordaunt said it was a “shame some colleagues cannot find a way to debate one another in a civil way”.

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