Television bosses were forced on Monday to end a planned debate between contenders for the leadership of Britain’s Conservative Party, as MPs voted again to reduce the fray.
The remaining five candidates – Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss, Cami Badenoch, Penny Mordaunt and Tom Tugendhat – were due to appear in the third televised debate on Tuesday night.
But former finance minister Sunak and foreign secretary Truss pulled out of Sky News, which was due to host the event, they said.
“Conservative MPs are said to be concerned about the damage to the image of the Conservative Party, highlighting disagreements and divisions within the party,” the statement said.
Conservative MPs are holding a series of votes to narrow the candidates down to just two, before Tory grassroots widespread voting.
The latest starts at 1600 GMT, with Tugendhat expected to win the least number of votes and will end when results are announced from 1900 GMT.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on 7 July that he was quitting as Conservative leader following a government rebellion in protest of his scandal-hit administration.
He remained as prime minister until his successor was announced on 5 September.
In the last two televised debates – on Friday on Channel 4 and on Sunday on ITV Network – contenders have clashed notably over whether to cut taxes to help offset the escalating cost of living crisis.
But Sunday’s skirmish became more acrimonious and personal – candidates were encouraged to directly criticize each other and their proposals.
Sunak called for Truss to vote against Brexit, his previous membership of the Liberal Democrats, and his position on the tax.
In turn, Truss questioned Sunak’s management of the economy.
Badenoch attacked Mordant for his stance on transgender rights – a rallying call in the “culture wars” that Tory authority is exercising.
Paul Goodman of the ConservativeHome website compared the debate to a political version of “The Hunger Games” and questioned why he agreed to it.
“Tory lawmakers and activists must have watched in horror as several candidates threw buckets of manure at each other,” he wrote.
He questioned why he would publicly admit to criticizing the government’s record that all but one of them supported the policies he supported as ministers.
The main opposition Labor Party has called for Johnson to leave immediately.
Its leader, Keir Starmer, called the withdrawal of candidates a sign of a party that was “out of ideas (and) out of purpose”.
“It doesn’t show much confidence to walk away from TV debates when you want to be prime minister,” he said.
(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)