Vicki Hawthorne: Writing on wall for Truss and Sunak as Tory leadership contenders head to Belfast

Truss and Sunak mural in Belfast. Pic Presseye
Truss and Sunak mural in Belfast. Credit: Presseye

In true Belfast style there is now a mural of Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss in a head to head boxing match painted on a wall close to the city centre.

The street artists have timed it perfectly, just as the Conservative Party leadership campaign prepares to roll into Northern Ireland on Wednesday.

The two leadership candidates will take part in a hustings event in Belfast, but as yet neither has delivered a knock out blow on their competitor during similar hustings across the UK.

Tomorrow will be a chance for local Conservative Party members to ask Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss questions to help them decide who they will vote for to become party leader and Prime Minister.

Several hundred Northern Ireland conservatives are expected to attend the event. Where the merits of tax cuts and how to combat the staggering rise in the cost of living have dominated the debate elsewhere, the Northern Ireland Protocol will certainly be discussed tomorrow.

As Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss is the person who has been the driving force behind the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, the legislation which effectively rips up part of the Brexit agreement with the EU. The bill passed the House of Commons last month, it is now heading for further scrutiny in the House of Lords in the autumn.

The DUP does not comment on the internal affairs of the Conservative Party. However, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson is likely to quietly favour the idea of Liz Truss as the next Prime Minister despite the fact that she was originally a supporter of staying in the EU.

Her change of mind on Brexit and commitment to the Protocol Bill which the DUP demanded before they would consider any return to Stormont probably gives her the edge in their book.

Rishi Sunak has been less outspoken about the Northern Ireland Protocol. It’s thought he raised concerns behind the scenes about the course of action. In an article for the Belfast Telegraph last week Mr Sunak said he would “push for the EU to come to the table once more because a negotiation can conclude much faster than we can pass a piece of legislation.”

The polls have him trailing Liz Truss in the contest.

When Boris Johnson was in contention to become Conservative Party leader in 2019, both he and his competitor Jeremy Hunt came to Northern Ireland.

Boris Johnson was given a tour of Parliament Buildings by the then DUP Leader Arlene Foster after the hustings. There is unlikely to be a similar photo opportunity with Sir Jeffrey Donaldson. It’s understood there are no plans for either of the leadership candidates to meet any of the political parties when then are in Northern Ireland.

Local Conservatives may also quiz Ms Truss and Mr Sunak about when and how households here will get the £400 energy payment promised to everyone. As yet there is still no clear plan how to deliver the payments here.

The leadership campaign is in Scotland this evening, where the state of the union will be a key focus.

Meanwhile, people are already stopping to take pictures of the mural in Belfast. It will need a refresh come the 5th of September, when the result of Truss v Sunak will be revealed.

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