WATCH: Starmer “astonished” at Truss and Sunak refusing to do TV debate

Katie Neame

Keir Starmer has said he is “astonished” at the decision of Conservative Party leadership candidates Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak to pull out of a scheduled TV debate, adding that doing so “doesn’t show very much confidence”.

The Foreign Secretary and former Chancellor – considered to be frontrunners in the race to replace Boris Johnson as Prime Minister – announced today that they were pulling out of the debate, which was due to be broadcast on Sky News on Tuesday evening. Sky News later confirmed that the debate had been cancelled.

In an interview with BBC News this afternoon, the Labour leader said: “I’m astonished that those that want to Prime Minister of the UK are pulling out of debates and out of scrutiny.

“I can see based on what I’ve seen in debates so far why they want to do so, because this is a party that is out of ideas, out of purpose – they’re tearing each other apart.”

Tory leadership candidates have already taken part in two televised debates, one broadcasted on Friday night on Channel 4 and a second on ITV on Sunday evening.

The Times reported this morning that Sunak and Truss were considering pulling out of Tuesday’s debate, partly to allow them to focus on hustings in front of Tory MPs ahead of the final MP vote on Wednesday. But there were reportedly also concerns that the two previous debates had been damaging for the Tory Party’s reputation.

Starmer told BBC News viewers today: “The millions of people – particularly with the heatwave today – they’ll be saying, I want a government that’s focused on the day job, that’s getting on with resilience for today and tomorrow, for however long this heatwave goes on. And focused on the cost-of-living crisis.

“Instead we’ve got fantasy economics. But as I say pulling out of a TV debate when you want to be Prime Minister doesn’t show very much confidence.”

Responding to the announcement earlier today, Labour’s deputy leader Angela 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.”

Five candidates remain in the race to become the next leader of the Conservative Party: Truss, Sunak, Penny Mordaunt, Kemi Badenoch and Tom Tugendhat. A third round of voting by Tory MPs will take place tonight in which the candidate with the fewest votes will be eliminated. Results are expected to be announced at 8pm.

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