Liz Truss’s comments about not using “handouts” to ease the cost of living crisis have been “misinterpreted”, Penny Mordaunt has claimed.
She said she would approach the problem “in a Conservative way of lowering the tax burden, not giving out handouts”.
But on Sunday, Ms Mordaunt, a former leadership contender who has thrown her weight behind Ms Truss, claimed the remarks had been misconstrued.
The trade minister, told Sky News: “It’s not that she’s ruling out all future help – that’s a misinterpretation of what she said. What she is looking at though is enabling people to keep more of the money that they earn.
“It makes no sense to take money off of people and then to give it back in very, very complicated ways. We need to simplify this and we need to ensure that households are as resilient as possible, and stopping taking large sums of tax off people is one way of doing that.”
Allies of Rishi Sunak, Ms Truss’s rival for the leadership, seized Ms Mordaunt’s remarks, accusing her campaign of “blaming journalists” and saying that “reporting what you actually say isn’t ‘misinterpreted’”.
Writing on Twitter, Mark Harper, a former chief whip, said: “So just what does ‘not giving out handouts’ mean then? Seems pretty clear…”
He added that this is the “second time in five days” that such a claim has been made by Ms Truss’s camp – a reference to last week’s policy U-turn on public sector pay.
A spokesman for Mr Sunak’s campaign said: “Liz Truss needs to explain to the millions of people worried about rising bills in the autumn whether she stands by the statement she gave Friday ruling out further support payments or has now changed her mind and is willing to consider them.”
Meanwhile, a senior source on Ms Truss’s campaign accused Mr Sunak of being a “shapeshifter”, adding: “There’s a seriously awful irony that Rishi has moved from saying offering immediate help on cost of living was ‘fairytales’ to now saying he’s changed his mind and is criticising Liz on it.”
Last week, Ms Truss abandoned a plan to bring in regional pay boards less than 48 hours after announcing it, following warnings that the move would lead to salary cuts for public sector workers.
A campaign spokesman said there had been a “wilful misrepresentation” of the policy and that there would be “no proposal taken forward”.
It came as Mr Sunak has hit back over plans to ease the cost of living and said Ms Truss’s reversal of the National Insurance rise would save the poorest workers just £60.
The former chancellor has criticised his rival’s proposals to rush through a series of tax cuts in an emergency budget next month if she is elected prime minister.
A source from his campaign said axing the rise would lead to “a situation where Liz as PM would get a tax cut of almost £2,000 and someone on living wage would get a £60 tax cut.”