Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss stepped up the blue-on-blue attacks in a fiery head-to-head showdown which saw them clash over taxes, the schools they went to and their loyalty to Boris Johnson.
The pair were grilled over their economic policy, China and even earrings in their first live TV debate since making it down to the final two in the Tory leadership race.
They came out neck and neck in a snap Opinium poll of who performed best, with Mr Sunak just ahead at 39%, compared to Ms Truss at 38%.
Sunak and Truss clash over economy, tax and Boris Johnson in heated TV debate – live updates
The debate kicked off with a particularly heated discussion about the economy – which has been a key dividing line in the race to succeed Mr Johnson.
Former chancellor Mr Sunak claimed there is “nothing Conservative” about Ms Truss’s approach and it would give the party “absolutely no chance” of winning the next election.
Foreign Secretary Ms Truss in turn suggested her rival would lead the country into a recession and accused him of “doom and gloom” economics.
As well as reversing the National Insurance tax hike, Ms Truss has said she would put an economic growth plan in place “immediately” if she becomes prime minister, along with imposing a temporary moratorium on the green energy levy.
Ms Truss said her plans would see the government start paying down the debt in three years’ time, but Mr Sunak hit back: “You’ve promised over £40bn of unfunded tax cuts – £40bn more borrowing.
“That is the country’s credit card and it’s our children and grandchildren, everyone here’s kids will pick up the tab for that.
“There’s nothing Conservative about it.”
But Ms Truss said no other country was putting up taxes and accused Mr Sunak of having no plan for growth.
Mr Sunak spoke over Ms Truss a number of times as he warned inflation was a problem in the 1980s and it is a “problem we have now”, adding: “We need to get a grip on inflation.”
The heated debate came after a weekend that saw allies of the two Tory leadership hopefuls trade increasingly personal attacks.
The pair also clashed over China as Ms Truss claimed Mr Sunak’s new tough stance was “driven by the Foreign Office”.
But it wasn’t all bad tempered with the cabinet secretary at one point complimenting Mr Sunak’s dress sense.
Earlier today, Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries hit out at Mr Sunak by comparing his expensive suit and shoes to Liz Truss’ £4.50 Claire’s Accessories earrings – and it caused quite a stir.
When asked to address the issue, Mr Sunak said the leadership hopefuls should be judged “by their character and their actions”.
He said he “wasn’t born this way” as his family emigrated to the UK 60 years ago and he had previously worked as a waiter at an Indian restaurant.
‘Great admirer of his dress sense’
Ms Truss would not completely disown Ms Dorries’ comments, but she did appear to distance herself from them as she said she wasn’t sure where the £4.50 claim about her earrings came from.
But she said she does not have “any issue with how expensive anybody else’s clothes are” and is “not going to give Rishi fashion advice”, adding she is a “great admirer of his dress sense”.
On Mr Johnson, Mr Sunak said the outgoing PM is “one of the most remarkable people I’ve met” but said he would not let him serve in his cabinet if he were to become prime minister.
He got a round of applause when he said he resigned “on principle” as “enough was enough” due to issues over conduct and the economy.
Ms Truss would not say what it would have taken for her to resign. She would also not answer directly when asked if she would allow Mr Johnson to serve in her cabinet, instead saying she did not think that would happen.