Liz Truss has said she wanted Boris Johnson to stay on as prime minister despite admitting he made “mistakes” during his troubled leadership.
The foreign secretary said Johnson did a “fantastic job” in winning the 2019 election and that the “positive side of the balance sheet was extremely positive”.
In her first broadcast interview since the Tory leadership campaign began, Truss said she was a “loyal person” and praised Johnson for his “massive majority”.
“I wanted Boris to carry on as prime minister,” she told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme.
“I think he did a fantastic job with the 2019 election, winning us a massive majority. He delivered Brexit, he delivered the vaccines.
“Regrettably, we got to a position where he didn’t command the support of our parliamentary party.”
Presenter Nick Robinson quizzed the foreign secretary on what that said about her “judgment”.
“To be clear — despite the rule breaking, despite the law breaking, despite what many people now are perfectly comfortable describing as lies told about what he did and what he knew on certain occasions — your judgment was Boris Johnson remained fit to be prime minister?”
Truss replied: “My judgment was that he admitted that he had made a mistake — or several mistakes — over the course of the last year, but the positive side of the balance sheet was extremely positive.”
Truss will face rival Rishi Sunak in the battle to succeed Johnson as prime minister after both secured enough votes among MPs to proceed to the membership vote.
Already she has sought to mark a clear dividing line with her rival on the economy, promising to “cut taxes on day one” — something Sunak has blasted as a “fairytale”.
While she sought to channel Johnson as someone with the “toughness” and “grit” to “get things done”, she said she was “not the continuity economic policy candidate, because I think that is where we didn’t get it right”.
She insisted that her tax plans — including scrapping Sunak’s national insurance tax hike — would not increase inflation despite a number of economists raising concerns.
“My tax cuts will decrease inflation,” she said.
“We have had a consensus of the Treasury, of economists, with the Financial Times, with other outlets, peddling a particular type of economic policy for 20 years. It hasn’t delivered growth.
“What I know about the Treasury, from having worked there, is they… do have economic orthodoxy and they do resist change.
“What people in Britain desperately need now is change. We need to unleash investment in our country, we need to get the EU laws off our statute books and be attracting more funds — for example from pension funds — into high-growth businesses.”
She added: “It’s not a gamble, it’s an economic reality that the higher taxes you have the more growth is choked off.”
Truss’s attacks on Sunak’s economic approach comes amid warnings that the Tory leadership contest could turn into a ” blue-on blue dog fight” as both try to woo Tory party members, who will pick their choice for prime minister in several weeks’ time.
However, in a separate interview with GB News, the foreign secretary indicated she would be happy to serve under Sunak or have him in her Cabinet if she were made prime minister.
Truss admitted she was not a “traditional Tory by background”, having grown up with socialist parents and joined the Liberal Democrats as a teenager.
She also said that she was “wrong” to vote Remain in the 2016 referendum.
“I was wrong and I’m prepared to admit I was wrong.
“I think the idea that somebody should have the same views, aged 17, as aged 46 is completely ludicrous,” she said.
“What you see is what you get: when I make a promise I deliver on that promise, and I’ve done that every single time.
“And when I make a mistake, as I did supporting remain in 2016, I admit that and I move on.”
Truss also rejected suggestions that she had tried to model herself on Margaret Thatcher, saying: “I don’t accept that. I am my own person.”
“I’m from a very different background. I grew up in Yorkshire, I went to a comprehensive school. I am somebody who has worked all my life to get things done and that is what I want to do in the job.”