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Sunak would back rival’s economic plans despite labelling them a ‘moral failure’

Campaigners wearing masks of Conservative MPs, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson and leadership candidates Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, take part in a Labour party stunt in Parliament Square, Westminster, showing the government relaxing on a beach with buckets and spades to highlight their inaction on energy bills ahead of today’s Ofgem price cap announcement. Photo by James Manning/PA

By Dominic McGrath and Martina Betteto, PA

Rishi Sunak has said he would vote for the tax-cutting plans put forward by Liz Truss, despite previously branding them a “moral failure”.

The former chancellor has used the contest to fiercely criticise his rival’s economic strategy, but on Thursday appeared to relent by admitting that if defeated he would back an emergency budget put forward by Ms Truss.

He also said that he will not leave politics if, as expected, he is defeated in the Tory leadership contest in less than two weeks’ time.

On Wednesday, Mr Sunak had declined to say whether he would vote for any kind of fiscal package put together by an incoming Truss administration, while earlier this week he appeared to suggest he would reject any offer to serve in her Cabinet.

He went on to lash out at plans that were “complacent” about the dangers of inflation and questioned how “realistic” the proposals from the Foreign Secretary were.

He has previously warned it would be a “moral failure” if under Ms Truss the poorest and most vulnerable fail to be protected amid a cost-of-living crisis.

Speaking ahead of the penultimate leadership hustings in Norwich, the Foreign Secretary hinted at further action down the line to ease the burden of mounting prices.

Ms Truss told reporters at a factory near the Norfolk city that tax cuts and boosting energy supply were the key to addressing the cost-of-living crunch.

But she added that, if she is elected, her chancellor would look at “what else needs to be done” at a future budget.

Earlier, Mr Sunak told BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme: “Of course, I’d always support a Conservative government. Of course, I would, it goes without saying.

“Of course, I’m going to support a Conservative government. I believe very strongly in the Conservative Party, and I want it to do well, and I will always whether as a minister or as a backbencher always support a Conservative government because I believe that’s the best thing for this country.”

He also hit back at suggestions he might quit politics if he does not win the campaign when asked about the comments made by Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s former senior adviser, that his interview with the Spectator “reads like a man whose epically bad campaign has melted his brain and he is about to quit politics”.

On whether he will quit if he loses the leadership vote, Mr Sunak said: “Absolutely not. Of course not.

“And I would dispute the characterisation. I’m working incredibly hard going around the country talking about my ideas for the future, and actually having a very positive reception where I’m going, and I think there’s everything left to play for.

“There’s still weeks to run in this campaign, and that’s why I’m continuing to give it everything I’ve got.”

In a Facebook live Q&A on Thursday, shortly before the BBC interview, Mr Sunak had also insisted he was the right person to unite the Conservatives as he insisted his party was a “broad church” and its MPs were not simply “robots”.

It comes as he also faced a backlash after claiming that independent scientists were given too much power during the pandemic and concerns about the economic and social impacts of lockdowns were not properly considered.

Ahead of the Norwich hustings, Ms Truss zoned in on the issues facing the East Anglian area, citing her plans of tax cuts, supply-side reform, better regulation and targeted investment zones.

She also pledged to tackle trade union strike action, such as that at the Port of Felixstowe this week.

As the Tory leadership contest begins to enter its final stages after a long summer of party in-fighting, calls are growing for urgent Government action to support households through what is predicted to be a difficult winter.

Supply issues linked to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are one reason behind rapidly rising power bills – with recent warnings suggesting the average amount UK households pay for their gas and electricity could reach £6,000 next year.

Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi, in an interview on Wednesday, insisted “nothing is off the table” when it comes to action on soaring energy bills, while also adding that a freeze in the price cap would not deliver “targeted help” for those who need it most.

But Labour has called on both Tory leadership candidates to expand the windfall tax on oil and gas companies if they become prime minister, as the energy price cap is set to rise again.

Shadow climate change secretary Ed Miliband said it was “intolerable” that Mr Sunak and Ms Truss had not offered “serious proposals” to address the crisis.

His call for action comes as energy regulator Ofgem is set to announce the autumn price cap for energy bills on Friday.

“We are now less than 24 hours away from the energy price cap rising yet again, but we have heard no serious proposals from the Conservative leadership candidates on how to stop this national emergency,” Mr Miliband said.