The contest to be the next prime minister should be a “battle of ideas” rather than a “knife fight in a phone box”, Tory leadership hopeful Tom Tugendhat said.
The backbench MP issued a thinly-veiled attack on Rishi Sunak over his refusal to commit to an increased defence spending target but said the contest must not be about “petty politics”.
Mr Tugendhat has pledged to spend 3% of gross domestic product (GDP) – a measure of the size of the economy – on defence and security.
Under plans set out by Boris Johnson, the UK is set to spend 2.5% by the end of the decade, well above the current Nato commitment of 2%, but the issue has become an important factor in a Tory leadership race taking place while war rages between Russia and Western-backed Ukraine.
Former chancellor Mr Sunak said he viewed the Nato target as a “floor and not a ceiling” and noted that spending was set to rise to 2.5% “over time” but refused to put “arbitrary targets” on what he would spend.
But Commons Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Mr Tugendhat told reporters at Westminster: “We will never put the safety of our country in doubt because of bean counters and spreadsheets.
“Security always comes before spreadsheets.”
Asked if he was taking aim at Mr Sunak, he said: “I’m not going to name any names, it’s absolutely up to you to look quite hard at where people are talking about different things and see where people are putting their targets.”
Mr Tugendhat insisted he was confident about his chances in the contest, with support from a range of opinions within the Tory party.
“I’m here to serve the country, I’m not here to serve anything else,” he said
“I’m here to bring a return of service to the United Kingdom – the government serving the people, the Conservative Party serving its members.
“Because this is not about petty politics, this is not some sort of a game. This isn’t just some sort of knife fight in a phone box.
“This is a battle of ideas that is actually going to determine the future of our country.”