Liz Truss has pledged that there would be no energy rationing if she were to become prime minister next week – while rival Rishi Sunak warned “we shouldn’t rule anything out”.
Speaking at the 12th and final leadership hustings at Wembley Arena in London, the frontrunner of the contest also promised no new taxes and gave the strongest indication that she would provide further support to households to help them with rising energy costs.
Asked about her plans to address the cost of living crisis, the foreign secretary reiterated her two main priorities of cutting taxes and securing the UK’s energy supply, but added: “In a fiscal event, the chancellor would address the issue of household support.”
Probed on whether she would promise to implement no new taxes, as Boris Johnson did in 2019, Ms Truss replied: “Yes, no new taxes”.
Asked about the prospect of energy rationing as bills soar, she said: “I do rule that out.”
But Mr Sunak, who, despite being the self-confessed “underdog” in the leadership campaign, secured the loudest cheers at the hustings venue on Wednesday night, gave a more cautious answer when pressed on the same topic.
“We shouldn’t rule anything out,” he replied.
He added that leadership “starts by being straight with the country about the economic challenges”, telling the audience: “I’ve not chosen to say the things that people may want to hear, I’ve said the things I believe our country needs to hear.
“Although it hasn’t made my life easy, it is honest and, for me, that is what leadership is all about.”
The two remaining candidates also presented differing views on the idea of a windfall tax.
Ms Truss ruled out another windfall tax on oil and gas giants’ profits, but Mr Sunak: “I introduced a windfall tax as Chancellor and I’m glad that I did.”
He added: “It is absolutely the right thing to do when energy companies are making billions of pounds of profits because of a war.”
Mr Sunak also repeated his promise to make inflation his “number one priority” if elected prime minister, and claimed: “I can guarantee that it will fall far faster with my plan than it will with anyone else’s.”
Ms Truss said fracking should be carried out in some parts of the UK.
But when asked about her detailed plans to curb steep energy costs, she said: “I am not ruling things in and out. I am not sitting here writing a future budget.”
The government continues to be under growing pressure to announce further support to get households and businesses through the cost of living crisis after news that the energy price cap would rise by 80% in October, leading to the average household paying £3,549 a year for their gas and electricity.
Mr Johnson has insisted it is up to his successor to decide what action to take.
During the final hustings in London, Ms Truss insisted the current government was “absolutely functioning” despite no more support being announced in the face of the growing warnings from industry experts of how high bills could climb.
Also during the two-hour event, Mr Sunak warned that “we cannot simply keep throwing money” at the NHS and pledged to “reform it to get the more efficient health service that we need”.
The former chancellor also said he would reappoint an independent ethics adviser – a commitment that Ms Truss has declined to make.
Meanwhile, Ms Truss pledged to “review” and “stop” smart motorways.
The foreign secretary also said she would “reform the government funding” for childcare – which she described as “too expensive for parents across our country”.
The victor of the Conservative leadership contest will be announced on Monday 5 September.