Rishi blasted for being blind to China threat and only realising danger late

Sunak 'has a lot to do' in BBC debate against Truss says expert

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The former Chancellor described the east Asian nation as the “biggest long-term threat” ahead of a crunch leadership debate between the two contenders this evening (Monday). But James Cleverly, the Education Secretary, said while Truss had raising concerns about “for a long time”, it appeared “new to the people on Rishi’s campaign”.

Mr Sunak and Ms Truss arose out of a crowded field of candidates to replace Boris Johnson as Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader last week, after a final round of votes by Tory MPs.

They will now face a postal vote of party members, who are expected to receive ballot papers as early as this week.

However, though the two candidates face a month of campaigning – the results to be announced in early September – many members may choose to cast their vote early, limiting Mr Sunak’s ability to reshape the narrative around him.

Despite being a long-term eurosceptic, the former Chancellor has been criticised for his high-tax stewardship of the economy, his very public role in ousting Mr Johnson, and has struggled with the perception that he is out-of-touch with normal voters.

He faced headlines noting his £490 Prada suede shoes that he chose to wear while visiting a building site in Teesside at the weekend, and has faced questions about his prior UK tax status.

In plans released today, he accused the Foreign Secretary of having “turned a blind eye to China’s nefarious activity and ambitions”, and pledged to close the UK’s Confucius Institutes, which have been linked to the Chinese Communist Party.

But speaking on Times Radio this morning, Mr Cleverly – who has been tipped to succeed Ms Truss at the Foreign Office if she is elected leader – countered this accusation, adding that he was “very glad that Rishi’s now talking about the issues that Liz has been talking about”.

He said: “We do of course, and I would say we have, already been looking at the influence that China has in our education system.

“This is not new. It might be new to the people on Rishi’s campaign team, but it’s not new to anyone that has worked in education or the Foreign Office.”

His sentiments were echoed by former leader Iain Duncan Smith, who claimed Mr Sunak had “pushed hard” for an economic deal during his tenure at the Treasury.

The party grandee added: “This is despite China sanctioning myself and four UK parliamentarians, despite China brutally cracking down on peaceful democracy campaigners in Hong Kong, threatening Taiwan, illegally occupying the South China Sea, committing genocide on the Uyghurs and increasing its influence in our universities.

“After such a litany, I have one simple question to Mr Sunak: where have you been over the last two years?”

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Ms Truss is believed to be already drawing up plans for her Cabinet and Government roles, so she can take over quickly from Mr Johnson if elected. Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey and another former leadership contender, Kemi Badenoch, have been associated with top roles in a new administration.

However, there is one name that remains with a question mark over it: Boris. The current Prime Minister, who resigned earlier this month, was not ruled out by Mr Cleverly for a role in a Truss Government.

Speaking on Sky News, the education minister commented: “He’s an incredibly talented politician.

“Whether he would want to serve after the bruising that he’s got at moment that might be another matter, but it’s not for me to start dictating to Liz who she puts into her Cabinet.”

Despite appearing deeply unpopular with his parliamentary colleagues, the now-caretaker PM may still be eyeing a comeback.

The two candidates to make it through to the final round of membership voting have sparked unease that they might struggle to retain the “Red Wall” seats Mr Johnson was able to win off Labour in 2019.

Mr Sunak is said to have so far struggled to connect with voters and his own party electorate; an Opinium poll released on Saturday suggested he had a rating of -38 percent for “being out of touch”.

Meanwhile, the latest YouGov poll of Tory members suggests Ms Truss could secure 62 percent of votes in the leadership election to 38 percent for Mr Sunak.

While the Foreign Secretary has burnished her Brexit credentials by signing trade deals around the world and taking on the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol, her past as a card-carrying Liberal Democrat and Remain voter has not been forgotten.

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