LIZ Truss has accused Rishi Sunak of running “Project Fear” and likened his tax policies to Gordon Brown in a tense exchange during the latest Tory leadership debate.

The Foreign Secretary and former chancellor went head to head on Monday night in front of a live audience, with Sunak repeatedly interrupting and talking over Truss.

Both were split over whether or not to cut taxes; with Sunak sticking to his decision to raise National Insurance during his time as chancellor, while Truss said she would cut tax and impose a temporary moratorium on the green energy levy.

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The Tory MPs were also split on whether or not to provide immediate help for those struggling with the cost of living crisis.

Sunak would not commit to any specific help, adding that he would wait until the full hike of the price cap is known in October, while Truss said she would act “immediately”.

Asked if people can expect more help with their bills if they become prime minister, Sunak said: “You may remember one of the last things I did as chancellor was announce a significant amount of support to help people get through autumn and the winter with those bills.

“And of course, as prime minister, I’d like to make sure that we always have the policies in place to support people like you, who are working incredibly hard to provide for you and your families.”

The National: Truss accused Sunak of running "project fear"Truss accused Sunak of running "project fear"

Truss said: “I would act immediately. I understand that people here, people around the country, are struggling with some of the worst cost of living problems that we have had for generations.

“It’s hard to pay for fuel. It’s hard to pay for food. I would reverse the increase in national insurance. We promised not to raise it in our manifesto in 2019.

“The people here, who voted Conservative for the first time, expect us to fulfil our promises.

The debate descended into bickering over tax policy and raising as each contender tried to ‘gotcha’ the other.

Truss criticised Sunak for presiding over the “highest tax rate for 70 years”, adding: “The reality here is this is the same line that we heard from Gordon Brown when he was in the treasury.”

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Sunak fired back by quoting Truss previously saying “let fiscal responsibility slide and allow the deficit to balloon”.

He added: “Not my words, not Gordon Brown's words, your words and you know what you were right then and you're wrong now.”

Earlier in the tense exchange over tax, Sunak challenged Truss to state mortgage rates in the US, adding that they were 50% higher than in the UK. Truss, referencing the Brexit campaign, hit back: “This is Project Fear.”

While Sunak, who continued to interrupt, added: “I remember the referendum campaign and there was only one of us who was on the side of Remain and Project Fear and it was you, not me.”

The National: Both Sunak and Truss said they would continue to implement Johnson's flaship levelling up policy if they become PMBoth Sunak and Truss said they would continue to implement Johnson's flaship levelling up policy if they become PM

Both candidates committed to continuing Boris Johnson’s flagship levelling up policy, which has been criticised for bypassing the devolution settlement, with the UK Government providing funding in devolved policy areas for numerous projects.

Truss also claimed that Sunak had been supportive of greater links with China until just a month ago, claiming that the Foreign Office led the way by taking a tough stance against China. She said the Treasury under her competitor had wanted “greater economic links” with the communist superpower.

They were also probed on comments made by Nadine Dorries on Monday ahead of the debate, where the Culture Secretary claimed Truss would be wearing £4.50 Claire’s Accessories earrings, whilst taking a pop at Sunak’s expensive suits.

Truss said she wasn’t sure how Dorries “knows where I got my earrings”, and tried to move the conversation on, asking the audience if they cared about the candidate’s fashion sense.