Blow for Rishi Sunak as ex-minister Chris Skidmore becomes first Tory MP to defect to Liz Truss

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Rishi Sunak has suffered yet another serious blow to his Tory leadership campaign as a senior former minister withdrew his support and backed Liz Truss instead.

Chris Skidmore announced he was changing sides with a blast at the former chancellor, saying he was 'increasingly concerned' by the campaign's 'consistently changing position' on policy.

He is from the more liberal side of the party and heads up the Net Zero Support Group of environmentally aware Tories. 

The Kingswood MP is the first MP to publicly defect from one campaign to another and it came as Mr Sunak continues to struggle in the polls.

His decision last night prompted yet more blue-on-blue attacks that have become a hallmark of the leadership campaign.  

Senior figures in the Sunak camp told the Times Skidmore was worried about his 11,000 seat majority in his South Gloucestershire seat and was swapping in the hope of landing a seat in the House of Lords.

It came as Mr Sunak and Ms Truss continue to hammer each other over their plans to avert economic catastrophe this winter. 

The Foreign Secretary doubled down on her determination to cut taxes to rescue the economy, plans Mr Sunak said would lead to an election 'hammering' for the Tories.

Facing northern Tories at a hustings in Darlington she said cancelling a planned increase in Corporation Tax was needed to  stimulate growth.

She also rebuffed pleas from Gordon Brown and the CBI leader Tony Danker to sit down with her rival and Boris Johnson before the Tory leadership winner is announced in September to  sort out the energy crisis.

She branded the idea a 'kangaroo committee' and said it was for Boris Johnson to act now - something he is refusing to do.  

Chris Skidmore announced he was changing sides with a blast at the former chancellor, saying he was 'increasingly concerned' by the campaign's 'consistently changing position' on policy.

The Kingswood MP is the first MP to publicly defect from one campaign to another and it came as Mr Sunak continues to struggle in the polls.

The Foreign Secretary doubled down on her determination to cut taxes to rescue the economy, plans Mr Sunak said would lead to an election 'hammering' for the Tories.

Rishi Sunak says Boris Johnson is 'responsible for his own downfall' 

Rishi Sunak was cheered for his role in bringing down Boris Johnson tonight - by Conservative Party members.

The ex-chancellor defended his resignation last month as he was grilled at a hustings in Darlington tonight.

He was the second of more than 50 ministers who walked out, forcing the PM to announce he would step down. 

In an extraordinary scene tonight the audience in County Durham booed an audience member who asked Mr Sunak if the phrase 'the hand that wields the knife shall never wear the crown' applied to him.

He replied:  'You're wrong to say that I wielded the dagger, because you know what? It wasn't just me who felt that enough is enough. The government was on the wrong side of yet another ethical decision.'

The removal of Boris Johnson has bitterly divided the party. Mr Sunak has been asked about the part he played in it at every hustings event so far. 

Last week he said it was a combination of economic disagreements with Mr Johnson and an unwillingness to overlook the groping allegations against former deputy chief whip Chris Pincher. 

The division in the party was shown again tonight.  There were also cheers for Liz Truss when she blamed 'the media' for Mr Johnson's downfall.

She also suggested that if she could she would halt a parliamentary probe into his behaviour, though she stopped short of saying she wanted a new vote on it. 

The Tories were whipped to support the probe's formation earlier this year. 

Conservative MP Theresa Villiers, who is backing Rishi Sunak in the party's leadership race, said that 'inevitably MPs change their mind during these contests', when asked about the defection of MP Chris Skidmore to supporting Liz Truss.

'I talk every day to Conservative Party members, he's got a huge amount of support and he has got great plans for our economy,' Ms Villiers told Sky News.

She added that MPs changing their minds 'is a routine part of every Conservative leadership election contest there's ever been'.

She added: 'Rishi had a tremendously good hustings in Darlington last night, in the Sky hustings he won over that audience, he's getting a tremendous reception on the ground - he's campaigning to win.'

Ms Truss has has refused to commit to extra support for families struggling with the cost of living after analysts delivered a shock warning that energy bills could top £4,200 in the new year.

The two remaining contenders in the Tory leadership race faced renewed calls to spell out how they would help after Cornwall Insight forecast average bills could hit about £3,582 in October, from £1,971 today, before rising further in January.

Mr Sunak pledged that he would be prepared to sit down with his rival and incumbent PM Boris Johnson to discuss the issue before one of them replaces him. 

But he questioned the value of the move - demanded by figures including Gordon Brown, while he and Ms Truss disagree on the medicine needed.

Boris Johnson has declared he is 'absolutely confident' that his successor as prime minister 'will have the fiscal firepower and the headroom to continue to continue to look after people'.

The Prime Minister also said he is 'certain' that whoever wins the Tory leadership election will want to make announcements about how they will 'further help people' struggling to get by.

Speaking at a Downing Street reception on Tuesday, Mr Johnson cracked jokes about it being one of his last events in the garden at Number 10, and the next prime minister being either a man or a woman.

The Prime Minister had also told guests: 'In these difficult financial times people are feeling the squeeze across our country and they're feeling the impact in particular of the energy price spikes that are being caused by (Vladimir) Putin's war in Ukraine and of course it's right that the Government is doing everything that we can to help.

 UK gas prices are soaring after Russia began throttling off supplies to Europe, causing a global shortage as EU leaders scramble for supplies

How energy bills have increased over time 

2018 - £1,300

2019 - £1,353

2020 - £1,295

2021 - £1,339 

(Average household bill - House of Commons Library) 

January 2022 - £1,309

August 2022 - £1,971

(Ofgem price cap)  

October - £3,582

January 2023 - £4,266 

(Cornwall Insight forecasts) 

v its forecasts last week 

October 2022: £3,359 

January 2023: £3,616

'We're putting £1,200 into the pockets of the eight million most vulnerable households and £400 for everybody to help with the cost of energy, £300 for pensioners, £150 off council tax, and the money will keep coming in throughout the autumn, more coming in September and October.'

Energy giants will soon be hit with a tougher windfall tax in response to a dire new forecast claiming bills will hit £4,400 by the spring.

Mr Sunak announced in May that the profits of companies such as BP will be subject to a 25 per cent charge to raise around £5billion a year - but this is set to be increased further in light of growing concerns over how millions of families will afford to heat their homes in the coming months.

Mr Sunak's successor at the Treasury, Nadhim Zahawi, along with Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, will hold crisis talks with industry bosses on Thursday morning, demanding a breakdown of expected revenues and payouts as well as their investment plans. 

A Treasury source told the Sun: 'If you look back at what these firms were projected to make and what they actually brought in, it was beyond their wildest expectations. We are looking at options to go further and faster on those profits.'

It comes after energy consultancy Cornwall Insight predicted bills will increase to around £3,582 in October, up from £1,971 today, before rising even further in the New Year.

Ofgem will set the price cap at £4,266 for the average household in the three months from the beginning of January. This is around £650 more than its previous forecast just last week. 

MoneySavingExpert's Martin Lewis yesterday described the rise as 'tragic news' and warned the increased cost would be 'unaffordable for millions'.

He urged the Government to launch an immediate 'action plan', suggesting the implementation of any new mitigating schemes could not wait until the end of the current Conservative leadership contest. 

Energy bills has rocketed in recent months due to the rising price of natural gas, partly as a result of the war in Ukraine. 

The cost of living has become a key issue in the Tory leadership race, with Rishi Sunak vowing direct support to help families get through an 'extremely tough' winter, while Liz Truss is resisting any 'handouts'. 

Mr Sunak said that, if elected, he would extend the package of support he announced earlier this year, which gave every household £400 off their energy bills, while those on means-tested benefits received a further £650.

Labour MP Bridget Phillipson said the Government has 'not planned for the long term' in tackling the rising cost of energy.

'Over these last 12 years we've been uniquely exposed because we haven't taken those long-term decisions around our energy security and on insulating homes,' she added.

The shadow education secretary told BBC Breakfast: 'Labour's got a plan around that too, that would cut bills for families but provide that immediate support too.'

She added: 'And what do we see now? Conservative leadership contenders taking pot shots at each other, complaining about renewable energy - they're more focused on the Conservative Party than on the desperate situation that pensioners are facing ... who are absolutely terrified about what the winter will hold.

'Parents who are skipping meals to make sure their kids don't go without, food banks that see people turning down food that requires cooking because they don't have the means to heat it up - this is just a shocking indictment of Britain in the 21st century.'

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