Liz Truss rejected a call to restore Northern Ireland’s abortion ban, while Rishi Sunak vowed to be “much tougher” on the benefits system in the latest Conservative Party campaigns in Belfast.
In response to an audience member who claimed that Westminster had imposed abortion laws “undemocratically” in Northern Ireland, Mrs Truss he said: “I’m afraid I disagree with you. We are a United Kingdom and we need all our laws to apply throughout the United Kingdom. That is what a Union is.”
In the meantime, Mr Sunak promised to “get people off benefits and put them to work,” telling the audience, “If there are hours to do, if there’s a job going on, people should have to take the job instead of just being able to keep the Benefits”.
He then added, “That’s the right thing to do for them and their families because there’s tremendous dignity in work and it’s fair to everyone, to the people who are paying their taxes, who would rightly expect that to happen.”
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He continued: “And I want to make sure that we deliver a welfare system that has that outcome.”
Both candidates faced difficult questions during the hour-long vote.
A nurse asked Sunak what he was going to do with the NHS and said that in his hospital he saw “two emergency psychiatric beds…mattresses on the floor”.
The former chancellor said the NHS is “clearly under pressure” but that it is a “priority” for him, and emphasized his proposal to charge people for missed GP appointments.
Elsewhere, an audience member asked if Ms Truss’s support for Boris Johnson calls into question her “own personal integrity and honesty”.
The foreign secretary responded: “I don’t agree with that. Boris Johnson has been an excellent prime minister.
“He delivered on Brexit, he delivered on the COVID vaccine and he delivered on standing up to Vladimir Putin and standing behind the Ukrainians and I’m proud of what he did.”
Both candidates were also asked about their position on the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Mrs. Truss once again referred to herself as a “daughter of the Union” and told the audience that she thinks of the Union as a “family” that she never wants to part with.
He added that the protocol is causing “injustice” in Northern Ireland and warned: “Until we resolve the NI Protocol problem, we are not going to get Stormont back up and running.”
“And I’ve been in talks with all parties in Northern Ireland, I’m determined to make this happen.
“And as we move forward on the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, we will see power sharing restored in Northern Ireland, and also the Belfast Good Friday Agreement restored.”
But Truss said it “could take time” to get the Lords to pass the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol Bill.
He added that he would not accept an EU offer that does not make the UK courts the final arbiter, does not provide for smooth trade between Britain and Northern Ireland and does not allow the people of Northern Ireland to benefit from tax decisions.
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In the meantime, Sunak said he would do whatever it takes to fix the Northern Ireland Protocol and protect the Union.
“It is clear that the operation of the protocol, as it is currently being enacted, is putting that position at risk, and I will do everything I can as prime minister to fix that,” he said.
But the former foreign minister also stressed that a negotiated result with the EU would be a “much faster” solution.
Speaking to reporters after the Conservative Party’s eighth election campaign, Sunak renewed his attack on Truss’s tax cut plans, saying they would not provide much help for low-income households or retirees.
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He said his approach would be a “moral failure of the Conservative government”.
“I think I have the right plan to help everyone in the UK, support them with the cost of living, particularly the most vulnerable groups in society, such as those on lower incomes and pensioners. But with some help for everyone “, said. .
“But what we must also not do is add fuel to the fire of inflation and permanent and unfunded tax cuts risk doing exactly that.
“They will significantly increase our borrowing and risk entrenching high inflation for years to come. That is not the right plan. My plan is the right plan.”
Four more Conservative leadership elections remain and the winner of the contest, and the next prime minister, will be announced on September 5.