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The Telegraph
The Telegraph
Ben Riley-Smith

Liz Truss set to reignite China row in fresh challenge to Rishi Sunak

Liz Truss will warn about the growing threat posed by China in a challenge to her successor, Rishi Sunak - Jonathan Brady/PA
Liz Truss will warn about the growing threat posed by China in a challenge to her successor, Rishi Sunak - Jonathan Brady/PA

Liz Truss will call for a tough approach to the threat posed by China in her first speech since leaving Downing Street, in a fresh challenge to Rishi Sunak.

The former prime minister has returned to the political fray, with a series of interventions planned in the coming weeks.

She broke her silence with an essay in The Telegraph, which defended her tax-cutting agenda in an implicit criticism of Mr Sunak.

On Monday, Ms Truss is expected to reiterate her case in her first on-camera interview since stepping down. The interview will be with The Spectator magazine and broadcast on YouTube.

Her return is set to culminate in a speech in Japan on Feb 17, in which she will warn that the threat posed by China is not being taken seriously enough.

It is set to reignite the row between Ms Truss and Mr Sunak on the campaign trail over who would take the toughest stance against Beijing.

It comes after a Chinese spy balloon flew over a US nuclear base before being shot down on the orders of Joe Biden, the American president. On Sunday, Beijing threatened to retaliate.

Downing Street declined to comment on Ms Truss’s 4,000-word article on Sunday, but one supporter of Mr Sunak dubbed it a “ludicrous” attempt to rewrite recent political history.

Mr Sunak is now facing challenges to his authority by two former prime ministers - Ms Truss and Boris Johnson, who in recent weeks has called for greater support for Ukraine.

While Ms Truss's article did not name Mr Sunak, it was seen as a critique of his economic approach - with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor insisting that taxes cannot be cut in next month’s Budget.

The article pointed the finger at Treasury officials for not briefing her on pension fund exposures to the gilt markets, as well as Tory colleagues for not sticking by her long enough.

Her comments were criticised by some Tory MPs on Sunday, with Richard Graham, one of Mr Sunak’s trade envoys, describing it as a “mistake” to intervene so swiftly after her ouster.

Mr Graham, the Tory MP for Gloucester, told Times Radio: "I think it's probably a mistake, really, to try and make the case that the Liz Truss government had the right ideas at this stage.”

However Sir Jake Berry, the Tory chairman under Ms Truss, argued that the former prime minister’s “diagnosis” about the need to trigger growth by lowering taxes had been correct.

Reacting to Ms Truss’s essay, Sir Jake said that she had offered the right "diagnosis of the disease that is facing the country", although it "wasn't delivered in the correct way".

He told the BBC's Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme: "I think her point of ‘we need to lower taxes, we need to create a growing economy’, that's what people want."

Jake Berry said that Ms Truss had offered the right 'diagnosis of the disease' in her 4,000 essay - Jamie Lorriman
Jake Berry said that Ms Truss had offered the right 'diagnosis of the disease' in her 4,000 essay - Jamie Lorriman

Grant Shapps, the Business Secretary, said Ms Truss had been “right” to want lower taxes but insisted her economic approach had “clearly” misfired.

Mr Shapps told Sky News: "I completely agree with Liz's instinct to have a lower tax economy. 

“We also know that if you do that before you've dealt with inflation and dealt with the debt, then you end up in difficulty. You can't get the growth out of nowhere.”

Labour and the Liberal Democrats were also critical of the intervention, with the latter calling in a press release for Ms Truss to lose her £115,000 annual post-premiership allowance.

Ms Truss’s intervention comes amid an emerging Tory civil war on the issue of taxation, specifically when and how to lower the tax burden.

Her tax-slashing mini-Budget was followed by a sinking pound and soaring interest rates for long-term government debt, as markets lost confidence in her approach.

But a band of Tory MPs believe tax cuts to stimulate economic growth continue to have merits, especially as inflation appears to have peaked and a recession is looming.

The Telegraph understands that the newly created group of pro-Truss loyalists, the Conservative Growth Group, intend to publish policy papers in the near future to force the Treasury’s hand.

Simon Clarke, who served as Ms Truss’s communities secretary and helped set up the new grouping, welcomed her intervention, saying it “poses important questions”.

Truss to speak on threat to Taiwan

After this week’s push defending her economic approach, Ms Truss’s next focus will be policy on China and the need to stand firm in the face of the country's rising influence.

She will appear at the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China’s Tokyo Symposium alongside Scott Morrison, the former Australian prime minister, and Guy Verhofstadt, the former Belgian prime minister and European Parliament Brexit coordinator.

A promotion note for the event said the symposium would focus on “Beijing’s threats to Taiwan, its use of economic coercion, its growing long-arm policing and malign influence operations abroad, as well as its gross domestic human rights abuses”.

Ms Truss’s speech will address concerns about China’s approach to Taiwan, amid fears Beijing is considering a military invasion, and the need for an open and free Indo-Pacific.

During the summer, both Ms Truss and Mr Sunak talked tough on China in the Tory leadership contest. But since taking office, Mr Sunak has softened his rhetoric.

When the Prime Minister attended the G20 summit in Bali last November, he talked up the need to engage with Beijing - prompting a backlash from Tory China hawks.

On the trip, Mr Sunak was set to become the first UK leader to hold face-to-face talks with Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, for five years. However, the meeting was cancelled when diaries changed after a stray missile struck a Polish building just over the border from Ukraine.

Rishi Sunak visiting with Ukraine Soldiers in the North East of England
Rishi Sunak visiting with Ukraine Soldiers in the North East of England

Ms Truss had been widely expected to formally term China a “threat” in the update to the UK defence, foreign policy and security strategy known as the Integrated Review. “Her views have not changed,” said an ally on Sunday.

Mr Sunak repeatedly refused to promise he would do likewise when asked during the G20 trip.

His new version of the Integrated Review is expected to be published in March, though the public position simply promises it will come in the "spring".

Conservative MPs are split on how firm the UK's stance on China should be.

Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative leader, once said Mr Sunak’s approach of “robust pragmatism” to issues like China was “close to appeasement” - a jibe that is known to have rankled with the Prime Minister.

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