Sky cancels programme

Sunak and Truss pull out of TV leadership debate

Candidates have been hurling insults at each other

Sky News has cancelled a third televised debate on the Conservative leadership race after Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss pulled out.

Their decision comes amid concerns among Tory MPs about the damage to the party caused by candidates exchanging insults and accusations during the debates on Channel Four and ITV.

Four candidates are expected to remain after today’s vote among MPs and with two withdrawing from the public screening Sky decided to pull the plug on Tuesday night’s scheduled broadcast.

“Two of the ​three candidates currently leading in the MPs’ ballots – Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss – have confirmed to Sky News that they do not want to take part,” said Sky in a statement.

“Conservative MPs are said to be concerned about the damage the debates are doing to the image of the Conservative party, exposing disagreements and splits within the party. Both are very welcome to take part in future Sky News televised debates.”

Angela Rayner Labour’s deputy leader, said: “The country deserves better than Tory candidates hiding from scrutiny simply because their first two performances have shown they would be a danger to the economy and the future of the UK.

“This Conservative ‘leadership’ contest is so embarrassing they’ve cancelled the debate – so you can’t see them fighting like rats in a sack.”

A spokesperson for Penny Mordaunt, the international trade minister and a target of many attacks in the first two debates, said: “It’s a shame some colleagues cannot find a way to debate one another in a civil way.”

Sunak and Truss have pulled out

Sunak has found himself the target of the other candidates for his role in Boris Johnson’s government and insistence that tax cuts must wait for inflation to be lowered. Truss is said to be struggling to make headway among viewers.

Backbencher Tom Tugendhat and Kemi Badeonch, a former levelling up minister also remain in the contest with Tugendhat the most likely to fall a the next stage.

Sunak appears to be a safe bet to make the final two, leaving Truss and Mordaunt to fight it out for the second spot.

Mordaunt is facing an attack from her own boss in the international trade department who has accused her of neglecting her ministerial job in order to focus on her prime ministerial ambitions.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the international trade secretary, said other staff had “picked up the pieces” when Mordaunt was not available.

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