‘Hectoring, domineering’ Sunak knows he went too far in debate with Truss, says Brexiteer

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Mr Sunak took the fight to the Foreign Secretary right from the off – but Mr Jones, deputy chairman of the European Research Group, suggested his combative approach “backfired”, and that by the end the 42-year-old realised he had made a strategic error. The debate, moderated by Sophie Raworth, saw the candidates slug it out over issues including their respective tax plans, their stance towards China, and the best ways to tackle the cost of living crisis.

It came over as hectoring, domineering, almost bullying but not quite

David Jones MP

However, many, including Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, criticised Mr Sunak for what they perceived to be his aggressive approach – and Clwyd West MP Mr Jones agreed.

He said: “I suspect that he’d been advised to tackle Liz on almost everything she said, but the problem about that, of course was that it came over as hectoring, domineering, almost bullying but not quite.

“And I think that that probably went down rather badly – it’s been suggested that he was mansplaining.”

Rishi Sunak Liz Truss

Rishi Sunak’s treatment of Liz Truss was close to bullying, said David Jones (Image: GETTY)

Rishi Sunak Liz Truss

Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss clash during the debate (Image: GETTY)

Mr Jones, who is backing Ms Truss, added: “She actually, I thought, dealt with it quite well.

“She said for the second time that she wasn’t the slickest presenter, but a lot of what she said was very sensible.

“It was fairly clear, I think, that toward the end of the debate, he had realised that ‘hang on a second, I think I’ve gotten a bit too far with this’. So he was trying to be a lot more emollient.

“But I think by that stage, it was probably a bit too far gone and I think probably rebounded on him.

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Liz Truss

Liz Truss handled the situation “quite well”, said Mr Jones (Image: GETTY)

“In fact, if you look at some of the analysis of the audience reaction after the debate, I think that it did turn people off rather than warm people to him.

“It’s not really in his nature to be like that. I think he’d had advice to do that and I don’t think that it was the correct advice.”

Mr Jones recognised comparisons between Mr Sunak’s approach and that of Al Gore in his Presidential election debate with George W Bush in 2000, when the former Vice President was widely criticised for smirking and sighing while his opponent was speaking.

He said: “That sort of thing doesn’t tend to play well. Basically, people will think ‘well, he’s being a clever dick’, and that’s not what he wants.

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Rishi Sunak Liz Truss Sophie Raworth

Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss and moderator Sophie Raworth (Image: GETTY)

Rishi Sunak Liz Truss

Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss did share a hug at the end (Image: GETTY)

“It was it was an important debate. I think that she was sensible and she was quiet and yet she made all the points so I think it probably backfired on him.”

Looking ahead to what the party now needed to do, Mr Jones said it was important for both candidates to bear in mind the need for to unite behind the winner.

He explained: “The point is that after this contest is finished, and the leader has been announced the party will coalesce.

“There will be at least a period, and I hope it’s going to be a lengthy period of general Conservative harmony.

Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson will need to be treated with “respect”, said Mr Jones (Image: GETTY)

“So what they really didn’t want to do, either of them, and frankly, I think it’s Rishi at the moment who is most danger of doing this, is to say something that is so confrontational and so aggressive, that it’s it’s hard to forget it.

“I think they have to remember that they’re both Conservatives, and just as Ronald Reagan said about not speaking ill of another Republican, the same goes for the Conservative Party.”

Asked whether either would serve in the other’s Cabinet, as both indicated was a possibility, Mr Jones said: “I actually can see that happening because both of them are very talented people and I think that in the interests of the country, there should really be mutual service. So I think that that is genuinely possible.”

Regardless, Mr Jones acknowledged both would need to find a way of accommodating another figure once they become Prime Minister, Mr Jones acknowledged – the current occupant of Number 10.

Al Gore Rishi Sunak

Al Gore, like Rishi Sunak, faced criticism during his 2000 Presidential debate with George W Bush (Image: GETTY)

He said: “I would hope they can work around it. Boris is still you know, whatever happens is going to be a significant important figure both nationally and within the party.

“And what one wouldn’t want to see is for example, what happened when for example, you have the long sulk of Edward Heath, you know.

“There is no reason why that should happen and I think Boris is a very easygoing guy, and I think that, provided he’s treated with respect, he can continue to play an important role.”

As for whether that could involve a return to the Cabinet, Mr Jones added: “That would obviously have to be a matter for him as well as for whoever is the new leader, but he is a talented man and it wouldn’t be a shame if his talents were wasted.”

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