Rishi Sunak repeatedly refuses to condemn Liz Truss's 'deep state' comments

Truss once claimed during a speech in the US that her attempts at tax reform had been 'sabotaged' by the 'administrative state and the deep state'

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak appearing before the Commons Liaison Committee at the House of Commons, London. Picture date: Tuesday March 26, 2024.
Rishi Sunak appeared before the Commons liaison committee at the House of Commons. (PA)

Rishi Sunak refused to condemn or dismiss comments made by his predecessor Liz Truss about a "deep state" as he was grilled by MPs on Tuesday.

The former prime minister claimed during a speech in the US in February this year that her attempts at tax reform had been "sabotaged" by the "administrative state and the deep state".

Truss was widely criticised at the time for spreading a right-wing conspiracy theory.

Appearing before the Commons liaison committee on Tuesday, Sunak was asked about Truss's comments amid a discussion on the civil service.

"What are your thoughts or comments on your predecessor when she says she was undermined by, quote, 'the deep state'?" Conservative MP William Wragg said.

Sunak laughed as he replied: "I think that's probably a question for her rather than me."

Pressed on the topic once again, Sunak laughed out loud as Wragg said "Is there a deep state? Are you part of it? Am I part of it?"

Former British Prime Minister Liz Truss speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference, 2024 CPAC, at the National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md., Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Liz Truss addressed the Conservative Political Action Conference in February. (AP)

The laughter continued as Sunak replied: "Probably a question for her... I probably wouldn't tell you if I was, would I?"

Pressed a third time, Sunak again declined to actively disavow them.

The prime minister's bizarre refusal to publicly disavow a conspiracy theory is in keeping with his unwillingness to publicly rebuke fellow Conservative politicians unless backed into a corner.

Sunak previously shied away from criticising Suella Braverman after she commented that “Islamists are bullying Britain into submission", and failed to condemn Tory candidate Andrew Cooper after he said struggling families should "f*** off". Sunak was also criticised for initially refusal to brand Tory donor Frank Hester's alleged comments about Diane Abbott racist.

Sunak grilling reassuringly uneventful

At a time when his personal approval rating is uncomfortably low, the prime minister likely found his appearance before the liaison committee comfortingly mundane – the majority of his other comments passing without event bar some awkward exchanges on immigration and Gaza.

Not unsurprisingly, Sunak's flagship Rwanda plan was questioned by the committee – with Dame Diana Johnson asking whether any commercial airlines had agreed to fly people to the East African country, as well as highlighting that at least 33,000 people had been left "in limbo" while plans are being finalised.

"Anyone who arrives here illegally should not be able to stay... We will do everything that we can to remove them, either to their home country if it's safe to do so or a safe alternative like Rwanda - there's no limbo about it," Sunak said.

Gaza, too, came under the spotlight, with questions for Sunak about what steps the UK government was taking following the UN Security Council's decision to call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

"We will continue to do everything we can, both ask Israel at all levels to comply with international humanitarian law, to improve the provision of humanitarian aid into Gaza, but also continue to call on Hamas and work with countries like Egypt and Qatar to unconditionally release the hostages," he said.

Sunak's appearance before the committee comes as he staggers his way towards the next election, which is expected to be held in the autumn, and faces criticism and growing discontent from within his own party following several by-election defeats and poor polling.

The Conservatives are currently trailing Labour with 19 points to 44, while the Reform party is catching up with the Tories on 15 points.