Sunak tries to close gap on rival in UK leadership race

LONDON (AP) — Rishi Sunak, one of two contenders to replace British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, on Monday defended his decision to leave the government and help end Johnson’s scandal-tainted leadership.

Johnson’s aides accused Sunak of betrayal by stepping down as UK Treasury chief last month as the government came out with a resignation letter amid ethics scandals, saying “we can’t continue like this.” With Johnson left with no choice but to resign as leader of the Conservative Party, more than 50 government ministers stepped down.

Voting by Conservative members put Foreign Secretary Liz Truss cynically ahead in the contest to succeed Johnson as party leader. Postal ballots began on Monday arriving at the homes of about 180,000 party members who will decide the winner. The new leader will be announced on 5 September and he will automatically become the prime minister.

Sunak said that his critics are “looking at the government’s last few months with a little rosy prism.” “The government found itself on the wrong side of a very serious ethical issue,” he said.

Johnson led the Conservatives to a commanding parliamentary majority in 2019, but he has since been plagued by scandals, and parties that were fined by police for breaking COVID-19 lockdown rules. He clinging to power for months but eventually left on 7 July after a scandal – after a politician was appointed on charges of sexual misconduct – prompted his ministers to resign en masse.

Sunak is running as a veteran minister who can guide the country through the economic turmoil caused by the pandemic and war in Ukraine. He was the preferred candidate among Tory lawmakers who narrowed the field of candidates from the initial 11 contenders.

But the truce has now gained more momentum and has won from several high-profile MPs and cabinet ministers with their promises to reduce taxes and government bureaucracy.

Sunak’s replacement as finance minister, Nadim Zhawi, said he was supporting the truss because it offered a “booster” economic outlook compared to Sunak’s “doomster”.

Sunak accused Truss of delivering on unrealistic promises, especially on the economy. The truss says it will cut taxes immediately, financing it through borrowings, to ease the living woes. Sunak argues that it is important to get inflation under control first.

But on Monday he promised a huge income tax cut over the next few years, in what critics said was a U-turn forced by the truss’s campaign pressure. Sunak said he would reduce the basic rate of income tax from 20% to 16% by 2029.

“I want to make sure that we can pay for it, I want to make sure that we can do it along with the growth of the economy,” he said.

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