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Rishi Sunak faces widespread criticism after a video emerged of the Conservative Party leadership contender appearing to boast about deliberately moving funding away from deprived urban areas of the UK while he was Chancellor of the Exchequer.

The remarks seem at odds with the Tory election pledge to “level up" less well-off areas of the country including northern England and the Midlands, under the premise that wealthier areas in the southeast have enjoyed the economic spoils for too long. Sunak was speaking to a group of Tory activists in Royal Tunbridge Wells in southeast England.

“I managed to start changing the funding formulas to make sure that areas like this are getting the funding that they deserve," said Sunak, who is struggling to overturn Liz Truss’s huge lead in the race to be Britain’s next prime minister. “We inherited a bunch of formulas from the Labour Party that shoved all the funding into deprived urban areas and that needed to be undone. I started the work of undoing that."

The New Statesman, which published the footage, said it was filmed on July 29.

Tunbridge Wells is a traditional Conservative stronghold and is a relatively affluent seat in southeast England, although it does contain some deprived areas.

Richard Holden, a Tory MP representing a so-called red wall seat won over from Labour and who supports Sunak, sought to defend him by accusing past Labour governments of moving money from small cities, towns and rural areas into metropolitan centers.

But Sunak faced an immediate backlash from his fellow Tories and the opposition.

“This is one of the weirdest -- and dumbest -- things I’ve ever heard from a politician," Conservative minister Zac Goldsmith said on Twitter.

Labour claimed Sunak’s remarks were evidence of the former chancellor helping better-off Conservative areas at the expense of poorer parts of the country.

“This leadership race is revealing the Conservatives’ true colors," Labour’s shadow Levelling Up Secretary Lisa Nandy said. “It’s scandalous that Rishi Sunak is openly boasting that he fixed the rules to funnel taxpayers’ money to prosperous Tory shires. This is public money. It should be distributed fairly and spent where it’s most needed – not used as a bribe to Tory members."

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.

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