Tory leadership: Rishi Sunak woos Brexit supporters with vow to fast-track ripping up of EU rules

New polling finds former chancellor is the overwhelming choice of voters in seats Conservatives must retain to keep a grip on power

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Saturday 16 July 2022 22:36 BST
Tugendhat says Sunak agreed to National Insurance rise because ‘the boss wanted it’

Rishi Sunak is making a fresh pitch to Brexit-backing Tories in the party’s leadership race, with a vow to rip up EU rules on financial services, data and clinical trials.

The former chancellor said that he would decide within 100 days of becoming prime minister which of a mountain of 2,400 outstanding laws and regulations should disappear. He is also promising a “Big Bang 2.0” for the City of London.

Mr Sunak’s rejection of immediate tax cuts is a risk, given that the Conservative grassroots are to pick the party’s new leader, but he is pointing out that – unlike his Remain-backing rival Liz Truss – he campaigned for Leave despite being warned “my political career would end”.

And he said: “As prime minister, I would go further and faster in using the freedoms Brexit has given us to cut the mass of EU regulations and bureaucracy holding back our growth.”

The move comes as new polling by JL Partners found that Mr Sunak is the overwhelming choice of voters in the constituencies the Conservatives must retain in order to win the next general election.

The public prefer him in 76 per cent of the 365 seats the party won in 2019, the survey suggests – leaving rivals Tom Tugendhat and Penny Mordaunt trailing badly, at 19 per cent and 5 per cent respectively.

Ms Truss – who is floundering in the race after being judged to have lost the first TV debate – failed to top the table in any of the seats, as did Kemi Badenoch.

The policy was unveiled after Mr Sunak scored a success with an endorsement from the figure seen as the party’s “Mr North”, the influential Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen.

However, the promised assault on EU laws will trigger a fresh clash with Brussels if it leads to lower regulatory standards, flouting pledges made when the Brexit trade deal was signed.

Last month, the European Union’s Brexit negotiator, Maros Sefcovic, warned of “consequences” if the promised level playing field is tilted, saying that the EU would “be watching developments closely.”

In other developments in the race, ahead of a second TV clash on Sunday evening:

  • Ms Truss floated another big tax cut, to help people take work breaks for childcare or as carers, despite Mr Sunak’s criticism that her economic plans are “a fairytale”
  • Mr Tugendhat – the contender most likely to fall in Monday’s third ballot – insisted he would not drop out before then, saying: “I have never turned down a challenge because the odds were against me. I don’t plan to start now.”
  • Labour demanded that the candidates come clean on the spending cuts required to deliver the promised “billions of pounds of unfunded tax cuts”
  • The Liberal Democrats urged the candidates to rule out a cabinet role for Boris Johnson, to ensure that they can begin “mending our broken politics”

Mr Sunak remains the favourite candidate among Conservative MPs, ahead of further ballots that will take place from Monday to whittle down the five survivors to a final two by Wednesday.

But the winner – and the next prime minister – will then be chosen by the 180,000-odd Tory party members before Mr Johnson leaves Downing Street on 6 September.

The outgoing government is already planning a bonfire of EU “retained law” in a controversial move that involves using backstage regulations instead of allowing full scrutiny and votes.

The former chancellor said he would accelerate the process, pointing to “burdensome” financial services regulations and promising to “make London once again the world’s leading financial centre by 2027”.

Mr Sunak would also “remove the burdens” of EU data laws that he argued are “stopping British tech companies from innovating, and public services from being able to share data to clamp down on crime”.

Further, he would “speed up our clinical trials approval process” by creating a single approval service, pointing to the success of the UK’s Covid vaccine rollout.

Mr Sunak said: “In 2016, I was told by my party leadership that if I backed Brexit, my political career would end before it had even begun. I backed Brexit regardless because I knew it was the right thing for the country.

“We need to capitalise on these opportunities by ditching the mass of unnecessary regulations and low-growth mentality we’ve inherited from the EU.”

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