Tory candidates to become Britain's next prime minister clash over rising temperature, inflation and other policy issues in a live TV debate, as they fight to make an eventual two-person run-off.

The leadership race was triggered after Johnson was forced to announce his resignation in the face of a cabinet revolt, following months of scandal.
The leadership race was triggered after Johnson was forced to announce his resignation in the face of a cabinet revolt, following months of scandal. (Reuters)

Conservative contenders battling to succeed UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson have clashed in a live TV debate, heading into a pivotal week for the acrimonious race.

Rising global temperatures were among the policy areas under contention on Sunday after Britain's climate minister, COP26 president Alok Sharma, threatened to resign if the winner retreats from the government's "net zero" target.

With Britain facing a record-breaking heatwave this week and dire warnings of loss of life, only frontrunner Rishi Sunak pledged to maintain green taxes to help pay for the legally enshrined aim of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Former finance minister Sunak was repeatedly assailed by the four other contenders in the ITV debate, the second of three before the two finalists are submitted to Tory rank-and-file members who will decide their new leader by September 5.

But he shot back with some of the debate's most wounding lines, attacking Foreign Secretary Liz Truss for her promises of a borrowing binge to fund tax cuts and help ease a cost-of-living crisis.

"This something-for-nothing economics isn't conservatism, it's socialism," he said.

Sunak blamed for inflation 

Sunak also attacked Truss for her political U-turns down the years, from being a Liberal Democrat to becoming a Tory, and from campaigning for UK membership of the European Union in 2016 to enthusiastically backing Brexit today.

"I was just wondering which one you regretted most?" he queried.

An hour before the debate, Sunak posted a new campaign video shot in vintage black-and-white style to remind Tories about how he went against the party leadership early on to support Brexit –– drawing a pointed contrast to Truss.

But the wealthy Sunak faced tough questioning about his tax affairs, his earlier possession of a Green Card for US residency, and his wife's prior status as a "non-domiciled" resident of Britain who was shielded from UK taxes.

Truss sought to blame Sunak for Britain's surging inflation and insisted on her own personal integrity. "I say what I mean and I mean what I say," she said.

The leadership race was triggered after Johnson was forced to announce his resignation in the face of a cabinet revolt sparked in large part by Sunak, following months of scandal.

The debate came after a survey of Tory members gave a surprise double-digit lead to outsider Kemi Badenoch.

Truss was second, narrowly ahead of former grassroots favourite Penny Mordaunt and Sunak, according to the unscientific poll by the ConservativeHome website.

Another balloting

On Monday, Conservative MPs will hold another round of balloting to eliminate the bottom-placed candidate before arriving at the final two by Wednesday.

Then the last two standing will appear before grassroots members across the country at a series of hustings, explaining why they are best positioned to confront challenges including the economic crisis and the conflict in Ukraine.

They must also heal Tory wounds inflicted by the numerous controversies of Johnson's premiership.

All five contenders were asked to raise their hands if they would agree to have Johnson in their cabinet. None did.

Source: AFP