6 Of The Most Bizarre Moments From Rishi Sunak And Liz Truss' Debate

Including meme-worth moments and on-stage hugs.
Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss in the BBC debate on Monday
Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss in the BBC debate on Monday

Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss went head-to-head in their first debate as the final two candidates to be the next Tory leader on Monday.

Despite the two pulling out of a previous debate in a bid to make the contest more civil, they still ended up pulling chunks out of one another in a bitter battle on the BBC last night.

Although neither contestant was able to land a killer blow, the debate has still caused a stir – mainly due to the very strange moments caught on camera between the two former cabinet colleagues.

1. A unique intro...

The debate kicked off at 9pm on BBC One with a particularly odd introduction. Both candidates stood next to each other, with their backs to the audience, staring unblinkingly into the camera as it zoomed in on them.

The excruciating shot lasted 16 seconds while the BBC’s Sophie Raworth explained how one of them would be the UK’s next prime minister.

Twitter thought they were cardboard cutouts and quickly turned the pair into a meme which spread rapidly across the internet.

2. Project Fear reared its head

Even though the UK left the EU back in 2020, both contestants were quick to hit out at each other repeatedly over their Brexit credentials.

Truss, who campaigned for Remain in 2016, even accused Sunak, who campaigned for Leave, of pushing “Project Fear” and “scaremongering” over his tax policies.

This phrase became synonymous with Remainers who cast doubt over how the UK would cope outside of the EU.

Then, bizarrely, they both accused each other of behaving like Gordon Brown, the Labour chancellor under Tony Blair who went on to become prime minister between 2007 and 2010 – despite having completely different approaches to current taxes. Sunak says any cuts must be affordable, while Truss wants slash them straight away

3. Their upbringings

For some reason, both of the contestants repeatedly emphasised their supposedly humble beginnings.

Sunak explained that his mother ran a chemist in Southampton, and he waited tables at a local Indian restaurant.

He left out the part where his family paid for a substantial private education at Winchester College, that he has since married the daughter of a multi-billionaire and become a millionaire in his own right.

For comparison, Truss repeatedly pointed out that she grew up in Paisley and Leeds and went to a comprehensive school (unlike her opponent).

Still, they actually both studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) at the University of Oxford, just a few years apart, although neither of them mentioned this.

4. Fashion?

After culture secretary and vocal Truss supporter Nadine Dorries compared her candidate’s ”£4.50 earrings” with Sunak’s designer outfits on Monday, appearances became a hot topic during the debate.

“I can address this issue about me very directly. In the Conservative Party we judge people by their character and their actions,” he claimed, pointing to his achievements during his time in the Treasury and completely dodging questions about his expensive appearance.

Truss said: “I don’t have any issue with how expensive anybody else’s clothes are and I think Rishi is a very finely dressed person and I am a great admirer of his dress sense.”

She added that she wasn’t sure how Dorries “knows where I got my earrings, to be perfectly frank about it”, but the leadership hopeful stopped short of “disowning” her supporter’s claims.

5. Their approach to Johnson

Despite competing to replace Johnson – who was forced out by his own Tory MPs three weeks ago – and vowing to deliver a fresh start after his messy leadership, the pair were quite complimentary towards him.

Truss gave him a “seven out of 10” for his premiership, which is not surprising because she has repeatedly said she is still loyal to Johnson (she is still foreign secretary in his cabinet), and did not want him to leave No.10 – even though he lost the support of the party.

Sunak actually helped to accelerate Johnson’s decline by resigning as chancellor, but told the BBC on Monday he would give him a “10 out of 10″ for delivering a solution to Brexit.

Johnson got Brexit over the line by agreeing a deal with the EU - an agreement which the government is now proposing to rip up through the the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill.

While Sunak quit the cabinet earlier this month, he, like Truss, held a senior ministerial role in Johnson’s government for years. However both, in their own way, ruled out giving the outgoing PM a job in their own administrations.

6. And it finished with a hug

Despite pulling each other apart for an hour, the two closed the debate by sharing a rather awkward hug.

As both camps have been accused of dragging the Conservative Party through the dirt with their blue-on-blue attacks, it may have been an attempt to appear more united – as with their promises to have one another in their cabinets if they succeed.

Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss hug each other after taking part in the BBC Leadership debate presented by Sophie Raworth.
Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss hug each other after taking part in the BBC Leadership debate presented by Sophie Raworth.
WPA Pool via Getty Images

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