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Budget 2024 - live: Hunt and Starmer ‘in conspiracy of silence’ as Britain faces hardest five years since WWII

Both the Conservatives and Labour are engaged in a “conspiracy of silence” about what will happen to the public finances after the election, the head of a leading economic think tank has said.

Responding to the spring Budget, Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, said both parties were not being straight about the “scale” of the trade-offs they will face after voters go to the polls.

“They, and we, could be in for a rude awakening when those choices become unavoidable,” he told a press conference on Thursday.

Mr Johnson also warned that the UK was facing its most difficult period financially since the Second World War.

“The combination of high debt interest payments and low forecast nominal growth means that the next parliament could well prove to be the most difficult of any in 80 years for a chancellor wanting to bring debt down,” he said.

Key points

Furious Hunt attacks ‘unworthy’ BBC after Amol Rajan calls chancellor a ‘Soviet Drag Queen’

17:00 , Matt Mathers

Jeremy Hunt called the BBC “unworthy” during heated exchanges on the Budget during an interview on Radio 4’s Today programme.

The chancellor criticised programme host Amol Rajan after he called Mr Hunt a “fiscal drag queen” and said his plans to boost NHS productivity were “Soviet.”

Full report:

Hunt attacks ‘unworthy’ BBC after Amol Rajan calls chancellor a ‘Soviet Drag Queen’

Tory former minister says ‘bad nerves’ not a reason to be on benefits

16:37 , Matt Mathers

“Bad nerves” is not a reason to claim sickness benefits, a Tory former minister has said during a debate on the Budget.

Rachel Maclean said an unknown proportion of those claiming sickness benefits for mental health were citing “bad nerves”, which she described as a “totally meaningless” phrase.

Full report:

Tory former minister says ‘bad nerves’ not a reason to be on benefits

Citigroup: Chancellor’s Budget ‘fiscally offside’ by £50-60bn

16:15 , Matt Mathers

Citigroup has cast doubt on the sums in Jeremy Hunt’s Budget, describing the chancellor’s spending plans as “fiscally offside” by £50-60bn.

The global investment bank said the chancellor’s productivity costings were overly optimistic and that his planned spending cuts were “undeliverable”, Bloomberg reports.

It added that tens of billions of pounds extra would be needed to plug gaps.

Cameron emphasises ‘incredible unity’ between Germany and UK

16:07 , Matt Mathers

Lord David Cameron emphasised the “incredible unity between allies” when asked about the leaked call between German military officials.

The foreign secretary was asked whether he agreed with Germany’s assessment that trust among allies is unbroken after the officials were heard in the leaked audio suggesting UK service personnel were on the ground in Ukraine.

He told a press conference in Berlin: “I don’t want to play into the hands of some Russian narrative about divisions between allies. What I see … is incredible unity between allies, incredible unity in Nato.

“Of course, we’re going to have areas where we want to discuss what more we can do, what more we can help. And those are the sorts of discussions that good friends and allies with this unity have in private.”

 (REUTERS)
(REUTERS)

UK will likely need higher taxes to pay off debt

16:03 , Matt Mathers

Stabilising the UK’s debt is likely to require additional tax rises, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has said.

Speaking at the IMF’s regular press briefing on Thursday, director of communications Julie Kozak told reporters: “IMF staff will be analysing the announced policies in greater detail but the aim to continue the fiscal consolidation pursued since 2022 to reduce inflation and stabilise debt is welcome.”

She added that the national insurance cut and reform of the child benefit system had been funded by “well-conceived revenue-raising measures”.

Ms Kozak said: “Significant spending to protect service delivery, growth-enhancing investment and the appropriate commitment to stabilise debt are likely to require additional revenue-raising measures in the medium term.”

Tory MP unhappy tourist tax not axed in Budget

15:54 , Matt Mathers

Conservative MP Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown told the Commons it was a disappointment that the tourist tax was not mentioned in Jeremy Hunt’s Budget speech.

The Cotswolds MP, who is campaigning against the tax, said: “If they can do it for the cut in capital gains tax, I say to them why can’t they do it for reintroduction of the tourist tax?”

He added: “This is huge stuff we are dealing with here, a huge potential benefit, and I cannot see why the Government won’t do a proper study into it, because what we know from our figures is that British businesses lost out by £1.5 billion in 2022, and even more in 2023.

“It would benefit many big retail shops, hospitality venues, airports and cultural destinations, and particularly areas of high tourist destinations like the Cotswolds. It also shows that Britain is missing out on a £10 billion EU market.”

Sir Geoffrey, MP for the Cotswolds (PA Archive/PA Images)
Sir Geoffrey, MP for the Cotswolds (PA Archive/PA Images)

Lord Cameron: Peace will only be achieved by giving Ukraine what it needs on battlefield

15:49 , Matt Mathers

Lord David Cameron said that peace will be achieved by “helping the Ukrainians deliver what they need on the battlefield”.

Speaking at a press conference in Berlin alongside his German counterpart, the Foreign Secretary said he and Annalena Baerbock discussed “what we can do in terms of medium and longer-range missiles”.

He said: “It’s a sovereign decision for every country. But in terms of what Britain has done, I know that what we have given to the Ukrainians has helped them to resist this appalling invasion.

“To all those in Germany and beyond and around the continent, around the world, who want to see an end to this conflict, who want to see a peaceful settlement, who want to see peace on our continent, I absolutely agree that you get peace through strength.z

“You get peace by demonstrating that Putin cannot win, you get peace by helping the Ukrainians deliver what they need on the battlefield.”

German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock and British foreign secretary David Cameron (REUTERS)
German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock and British foreign secretary David Cameron (REUTERS)

Labour front bencher stirs pot over May election

15:40 , Matt Mathers

A senior Labour MP has stirred the pot over speculation about a May election, posting a lighthearted meme on Twitter featuring popstar Justin Timberlake.

Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow paymaster general, shared an image of Justin Timberlake with the words ‘it’s gonna be May’ above a news report saying Rishi Sunak had refused to rule out a spring vote.

Mr Timberlake’s old band NSYNC released a song in 2000 called It’s Gonna Be Me.

The prime minister has previously said his “working assumption” is that he will go to the country in the second half of this year.

But he did not repeat that formulation when asked about a May vote on the Jeremy Vine show on BBC Radio 2, as we reported earlier.

Instead, the Conservative leader said: “I’m not going to say anything about that. What matters is the choice at that election”.

Rishi Sunak’s ‘complacency’ on small boats is being exposed, claim Labour

15:22 , Matt Mathers

Labour has urged Rishi Sunak to "get a grip" after Home Office figures showed the record start to the year for small boats crossing the English Channel has been extended, Archie Mitchell reports.

Some 225 individuals were confirmed to have crossed the Channel on Wednesday 6 March on five boats, taking the total for the year so far up to 3,208.

That exceeds the 3,150 that had arrived by the same point last year, and is almost 45 per cent more than the 2,212 that had arrived by 6 March 2022, which was the highest year on record for small boat arrivals.

Labour’s shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock said: "In January, Rishi Sunak and James Cleverly told us that small boat arrivals were down by a third, they said their plan was working, and they insisted that the reduction in crossings last year was nothing to do with the weather.

"All those claims now look utterly ridiculous, and even worse, their complacency has left our country dangerously exposed and ill-prepared for what continues to be a record start to the year for small boat crossings.

"Instead of ignoring what’s happening, the Prime Minister needs to start facing up to the seriousness of this situation and the reality of the chaos that is unfolding in the Channel.

"But if he is too weak to get a grip, he should call an election, so Labour can fix this mess. We will take urgent action to establish a new cross border police unit and a new security partnership with Europol to smash the smuggling gangs, and we will end the use of hotels by asylum-seekers through fast-track processing and returns."

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Cameron to hold press conference with German counterpart

14:47 , Matt Mathers

Lord David Cameron is set to hold a press conference with his German counterpart Annalena Baerbock this afternoon.

The foreign secretary will discuss with Ms Baerbock defence cooperation, the war in Ukraine and other security issues.

We’ll bring you the main updates from the press conference - you can also watch it live by following the link below.

The pair are also expected to discuss the war in Gaza and illegal migration.

Berlin is said to have become increasingly annoyed with the UK because prime minister Rishi Sunak won’t take time out of his schedule to make a personal visit.

And the two allies were embroiled in somewhat of a diplomatic spat earlier this week when it was reported that German military officials had accidentally leaked British military secrets while discussing the conflict in Ukraine.

Live: David Cameron and German counterpart Annalena Baerbock hold news conference

No 10 declines to say if Donelan broke ministerial code

14:29 , Matt Mathers

Downing Street has declined to say whether Michelle Donelan broke the ministerial code after she was forced to pay damages to an academic over comments she made on X.

Asked whether Rishi Sunak was confident the science secretary has not broken the ministerial code, the prime minister’s official spokeswoman reiterated that she “acted in line with established precedent”.

Asked whether it is acceptable for people to make false claims and wait for a several-months-long investigation to take place before retracting them, the spokesman said: “There was an independent investigation.

“And at the conclusion of that, the Secretary of State was clear that she fully accepted that the individual was not an extremist, a supporter of Hamas or any other prescribed organisation, and she therefore withdrew her concerns and deleted her original post.”

No 10 also declined to say whether Ms Donelan followed government advice in tweeting a letter in which she accused an academic of supporting Hamas.

The spokesman said: “I can’t obviously comment on specific legal advice. But as I say, and as the DSIT statement said, she received advice and was, in line with established precedent, provided legal support and representation.”

Michelle Donelan (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
Michelle Donelan (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Badenoch delivers speech at Chatham House

14:20 , Matt Mathers

Business secretary Kemi Badenoch has been delivering a speech at Chatham House, where she addressed the Global Trade Conference.

The conference brings together experts to discuss shifts in global trade, addressing everything from mitigating geopolitical risks to adapting to digital advancements.

Earlier, Ms Badenoch accused Labour of “believing Canada before the UK” as she faced calls to reveal the “truth” over the trade talks between the two nations.

The Business Secretary said Labour’s attempts to “chase headlines” based on things they have been told by the other side of the negotiations is “not helpful” to achieving the best outcome for businesses, farmers and others.

In January, Ms Badenoch said the talks on a free trade agreement with Canada had not “broken down” over disagreements on beef and cheese.

Later, the Canadian high commissioner, Ralph Goodale, told the Business and Trade Committee that since the pause was announced “there have been neither negotiations nor technical discussions with respect to any of the outstanding issues”.

Sunak appears at Q&A event near Rochdale

14:03 , Matt Mathers

Rishi Sunak has been speaking to voters at an event near Rochdale after his party won the recent by-election in the Greater Manchester seat.

The prime minister appeared at a Q&A event at The Queens Hotel, a Wetherspoons pub in the former mining village of Maltby, near Rotherham, South Yorkshire.

UK facing most difficult period since WWII - IFS

13:45 , Matt Mathers

Britain is facing its most difficult period financially since the Second World War, a leading think tank has said.

Paul Johnson, director of the IFS, said: “The combination of high debt interest payments and low forecast nominal growth means that the next parliament could well prove to be the most difficult of any in 80 years for a chancellor wanting to bring debt down”.

Labour vows to end practice of taxpayers footing bill for ministers’ legal fees

13:22 , Matt Mathers

Labour has vowed to stop the practice of taxpayers footing the bill for ministers’ legal fees after science secretary Michelle Donelan was forced to pay damages to an academic for a comment she made on X.

Sir Keir Starmer said taxpayers footing the bill for damages to an academic about whom Ms  Donelan made a false claim was "totally insulting".

Speaking during a visit to a construction site in the City of London on Thursday, the Labour leader told broadcasters: "I think most people watching this will be aghast.

"The government is telling them every day that they can’t do any more to help them. People are really struggling to pay their bills, and the government says ‘We can’t afford to help you anymore’. People know that public services are crumbling.

"And then you’ve got a minister who says something she shouldn’t have said, then has to pick up a legal action and pay damages and costs, and then says ‘The taxpayer is going to pay for that’.

"Totally insulting. We need a change.

"I’ll tell you something else - if we’re privileged enough to come into power and have a Labour government, we will never allow that sort of thing to happen. That will be history."

Read more about what Ms Donelan said here:

Taxpayers forced to pay £15,000 after minister accused academic of supporting Hamas

Rishi Sunak refuses to rule out May general election

13:16 , Matt Mathers

Rishi Sunak has refused to rule out a May election as speculation mounts that he is eyeing an early poll.

The prime minister has previously said his “working assumption” is that he will go to the country in the second half of this year.

But he did not repeat that formulation when asked about a May vote on the Jeremy Vine show on BBC Radio 2.

Full report:

Rishi Sunak refuses to rule out May general election

Jeremy Hunt’s Budget failed to address ‘the real challenges’ facing UK, IFS warns

13:15 , Matt Mathers

Jeremy Hunt failed to address “the real challenges we are facing” in Wednesday’s Budget because he was “not transparent about what those challenges are”, the IFS has said, Archie Mitchell reports.

Director Paul Johnson said there were “things to welcome” from the chancellor, including a focus on public sector productivity and a “sensible” shakeup of the non-dom tax loophole.

But he said: “This was not a budget which addressed the real challenges we are facing because it was not transparent about what those challenges are.”

The head of the influential think tank pointed to future spending cuts pencilled in as part of the Budget, adding: “One only has to look at the scale of NHS waiting lists, the number of local authorities at or near bankruptcy, the backlogs in the justice system, the long-term cuts to university funding, the struggles of the social care system, to wonder where these cuts will really, credibly come from.”

Five Budgets that left their mark on history – for good and bad

13:15 , Matt Mathers

Some chancellors made a mark on politics, perhaps in ways they never intended, as Sean O’Grady explains.

Read Sean’s piece in full here:

Five Budgets that left their mark on history – for good and bad

Vapes hit with new tax in Budget as part of Jeremy Hunt’s crackdown on smoking

04:00 , Tara Cobham

Jeremy Hunt has announced a new tax on vapes as the government moved to crack down on smoking in the spring Budget.

The chancellor introduced a levy on the smoking alternatives in a bid to make them unaffordable for children. He said the move would take effect from October 2026.

It comes after the government in November last year made plans for a “smoke-free” generation by banning tobacco products for children turning 14 or younger.

Matt Mathers reports:

Vapes hit with new tax in Budget as part of Jeremy Hunt’s crackdown on smoking

Watch: Jeremy Hunt says ‘great budgets can change history’ in new video

03:00 , Tara Cobham

Jeremy Hunt’s 2p Budget tax cut is not ‘silver bullet’ to rescue party, George Osborne warns

02:00 , Tara Cobham

Jeremy Hunt announced a pre-election giveaway Budget in which he cut taxes for millions but almost immediately faced warnings from senior Tories that he had failed to deliver a “silver bullet” to save his party.

The chancellor slashed 2p from national insurance – and signalled his desire to abolish it altogether – in a bid to woo disgruntled voters. Combined with a similar cut at the end of last year, Mr Hunt said a person on an average salary of £35,000 would be £900 a year better off.

But in a withering assessment, the highly respected Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said for every £1 handed back to voters by the chancellor, the decision to freeze tax thresholds would claim £1.30.

Politics and Whitehall Editor Kate Devlin, Political Correspondent Archie Mitchell and Political Correspondent Zoe Grunewald report:

Hunt’s 2p Budget tax cut is not ‘silver bullet’ to rescue party, Osborne warns

Watch: Key takeaways from Jeremy Hunt’s 2024 spring Budget

01:00 , Tara Cobham

Budget leaves big picture largely unchanged, say experts

00:00 , Tara Cobham

A “smoke and mirrors” Budget has left the overall economic picture largely unchanged and a “sour” prospect for whoever wins the next election, two leading economic think tanks have said.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) and the Resolution Foundation both said Wednesday’s Budget meant taxes were still going up and living standards still falling since 2019 despite the announcement of another 2p cut in national insurance.

Paul Johnson, director of the IFS, said “smoke and mirrors” were to be expected, and the “big picture on tax remains much the same”, with tax revenues being 3.9% of national income higher than they were in 2019.

Christopher McKeon reports:

Budget leaves big picture largely unchanged, say experts

Budget ‘won’t make a dent’ in financial challenges, Stormont minister says

Wednesday 6 March 2024 23:00 , Tara Cobham

The Budget “won’t make a dent” in Northern Ireland’s financial challenges, Stormont’s Finance Minister has said.

The Budget will provide an extra £100 million for public spending in Northern Ireland in 2024-25, the Government has said.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt also announced regeneration funds of £20 million each for Londonderry and Coleraine over 10 years.

Jonathan McCambridge reports:

Budget ‘won’t make a dent’ in financial challenges, Stormont minister says

Five Budgets that made their mark on history – for good and bad

Wednesday 6 March 2024 22:00 , Tara Cobham

It remains to be seen if Jeremy Hunt’s last spring Budget before the election makes much impact on his party’s chances of winning a fifth term. In truth, Budgets tend to be ephemeral things with measures reversed by successive administrations – or even by the same chancellor. However, a few Budgets did make their mark in history, for good and bad reasons…

Read the full story here...

Five Budgets that made their mark on history – for good and bad

Council tax rises expected to cancel out Budget national insurance cut

Wednesday 6 March 2024 21:15 , Tara Cobham

Expected rises in council tax will wipe out any benefit felt by households from the cut to national insurance announced in the Budget, figures suggest.

A forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) shows council tax receipts in England are expected to rise from £38.7 billion in 2023-24 to £50.4 billion in 2028/29, an increase of £11.7 billion.

This compares with receipts totalling £10.7 billion which the OBR expects to be generated over the same period by the 2% cut to national insurance announced by Jeremy Hunt on Wednesday.

Jonathan Bunn reports:

Council tax rises expected to cancel out Budget national insurance cut

Christopher Nolan among filmmakers hailing tax relief for independent UK movies

Wednesday 6 March 2024 21:00 , Tara Cobham

British filmmakers Christopher Nolan, Richard Curtis and Emerald Fennell have welcomed a tax relief for UK independent movies which has been hailed as “game changing” for new talent.

During the final Budget before the general election, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced the Government will provide eligible film studios in England with 40% relief on gross business rates until 2034.

He said the tax credit will be focused on UK independent films with a budget of less than £15 million.

Naomi Clarke reports:

Christopher Nolan among filmmakers hailing tax relief for independent UK movies

Hunt ‘understands local concerns’ after Scottish Tory leader ‘deeply disappointed’

Wednesday 6 March 2024 20:45 , Tara Cobham

Jeremy Hunt said he “understands there are local concerns”, after Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said he was “deeply disappointed” that the Chancellor extended the windfall tax on oil and gas firms.

Mr Hunt said: “We’ll be engaging with the oil and gas industry to talk about those concerns.

“Given that high energy prices following the invasion of Ukraine have lasted much longer than anyone predicted at the time, I think it’s fair that the oil and gas industry should make an additional contribution to the amount of money that we have been having to spend on cost-of-living support.”

Northern Ireland remains ‘fiscally constrained’ following Budget, says deputy First Minister

Wednesday 6 March 2024 20:30 , Tara Cobham

Northern Ireland’s deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly said the region remained in a “fiscally constrained position” following the Budget.

She said: “I understand there’s probably about £99 million-worth of additional benefit for Northern Ireland.

“We have set out the big challenges we have in terms of our public sector transformation, the waiting lists, issues around special educational needs. Of course we will have fiscal responsibility as we address that, and we want to deliver.

“But to deliver on those things will require investment, it does require resources.

“So, while we welcome the money we also emphasise that we will continue in a fiscally constrained position in Northern Ireland.

“That will require some difficult decisions to be made.”

Northern Ireland’s deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly said the region remained in a ‘fiscally constrained position’ following the Budget (Liam McBurney/PA Wire)
Northern Ireland’s deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly said the region remained in a ‘fiscally constrained position’ following the Budget (Liam McBurney/PA Wire)

Budget will hit pensioners badly, experts say

Wednesday 6 March 2024 20:19 , Lydia Patrick

Jeremy Hunt’s 2p National Insurance cut will ‘sting’ pensioners, say the Telegraph.

Those living off their pensions will now have to pay more tax on their private savings as employees pay less national insurance.

Those over 66 do not pay NI and will be left out of around £900 personal taxation giveaways, according to the paper.

MP calls no compensation for those affected by Post Office and blood scandals a ‘disgrace’

Wednesday 6 March 2024 20:15 , Tara Cobham

Labour MP Kevan Jones (North Durham) said the Government “are a disgrace” for not allocating money for compensation schemes for sub-postmasters or those affected by the contaminated blood scandal in the Budget.

He told the Commons: “There is no extra money being put into the Budget for the new schemes and scandalously, that no money has been allocated for the contaminated blood victims either. Now that is cynical. That is about just kicking this into the election.”

He added: “The Government have a moral duty to both those people and need to put money aside for that.”

Jeremy Corbyn criticises Hunt for not mentioning social care ‘crisis’ in Budget

Wednesday 6 March 2024 20:00 , Tara Cobham

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has criticised Jeremy Hunt for not mentioning the social care “crisis” in his Budget.

Speaking in the Commons, the Independent MP for Islington North said: “Whilst the Chancellor said a great deal about the NHS, he didn’t mention social care at any one point in his speech.

“It is a crisis that there is, for so many, so many families are devastated by the costs of social care and so many women have to give up their jobs, their careers, and their hopes because they have to care for elderly relatives, or those with profound disabilities.

“We can do so much better in this country than we’re doing, and so this Budget to me is not welcome at all, it is a huge missed opportunity.”

Mr Corbyn also called for the “immoral and disgraceful” two-child benefits policy to be abolished, adding: “It would not be madly expensive to end that policy and it would take 250,000 children out of poverty.

“It would cost £1.3 billion. When the Chancellor announced that the non-dom abolition – which I agree with – would free up more money for tax cuts for the future, that could have been used to end the two-child policy, a very neat synchronisation of two policy changes.”

Budget backs cutting edge plans to send police drones to emergency scenes

Wednesday 6 March 2024 19:45 , Tara Cobham

Police use of drones as first responders was one of the more eye-catching measures that will affect law enforcement in the Budget.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said he would prioritise schemes that will save money in the next five years, pledging £230 million for new technology including increased used of video calls and drones.

Plans for trials where drones are used as first responders to the scene of emergencies were unveiled by police chiefs in November, with the firsts tests due to be carried out in Norfolk in the coming months.

Margaret Davis reports:

Budget backs cutting edge plans to send police drones to emergency scenes

Charity ‘disappointed’ Budget did not mention domestic abuse services funding

Wednesday 6 March 2024 19:35 , Tara Cobham

A domestic abuse charity has said it is “disappointed” there was no mention of funding for lifesaving domestic abuse services in the spring Budget.

Abigail Ampofo, Interim CEO of Refuge, said: “Refuge is disappointed, but sadly not surprised that despite the Government’s focus on providing better public services, there was no mention of funding for lifesaving domestic abuse services in the Spring Budget delivered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt, today.

“Ahead of International Women’s Day on Friday, it is devastating that women were yet again overlooked, with no new long-term sustainable funding commitments for frontline domestic abuse services from the Government.

It comes after Refuge, in coalition with four other leading VAWG (violence against women and girls) organisations, said it issued a letter to the Chancellor earlier this week, urging the inclusion of £427 million for specialist domestic abuse services in the Budget.

Fuel duty freeze extended in Budget in boost to motorists

Wednesday 6 March 2024 19:30 , Tara Cobham

Jeremy Hunt has handed a Budget boost to motorists as the chancellor opted to keep fuel duty frozen for the 14th year in a row.

In a move expected to cost the Treasury around £5bn, Mr Hunt once again extended the 5p cut in fuel duty introduced by Rishi Sunak in 2022 as wholesale prices soared in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Despite an unforgiving economic landscape, the chancellor is under pressure to entice voters with tax giveaways ahead of this year’s general election, with recent polling putting the Conservative Party’s popularity at a 45-year low.

Andy Gregory reports:

Fuel duty freeze extended in Budget in boost to motorists

Opinion | This was a nakedly political Budget – and it won’t save the Tory party

Wednesday 6 March 2024 19:28 , Tara Cobham

People view the government as taking with one hand and giving back a little bit of it with another – Andrew Grice warns that the Conservatives have run out of time to change the course of public opinion.

“Jeremy Hunt’s Budget won’t save the Conservatives from election defeat,” he writes.“We don’t need a crystal ball to tell us that because we can read the book: the first two percentage point cut in national insurance, in the autumn statement last November, didn’t dent Labour’s commanding lead in the opinion polls. Nor will today’s repeat.”

Read the full article here.

Opinion | The harder Jeremy Hunt tried to be funny and normal, the weirder he became

Wednesday 6 March 2024 19:27 , Tara Cobham

If the chancellor hoped his Budget jokes and policies would go down a storm, he was sadly mistaken, writes Joe Murphy.

Joe says: “Hunt’s campaign to look normal started after breakfast with a jog with his labrador, and posting a video of himself saying: ‘I hate watching myself on TV.’ But then he just blurted out “Great budgets change history”, which is the kind of thing only weird people say.

“Normal people don’t have this exaggerated sense of destiny. Only people descended from 17th-century colonial administrators assume that, like Luke Skywalker, they were born to change the future. (Hunt’s ancestor was Sir Streynsham Master, who ran Madras for the East India Company and imposed licences on taverns and theatres.)”

Read the full sketch here.

Chancellor should have cut income tax not NI, argues Sir David Davis

Wednesday 6 March 2024 19:15 , Tara Cobham

The Chancellor should have cut income tax rather than national insurance, Conservative former minister Sir David Davis has said, claiming it would have incentivised more workers over 65 to remain in work.

Tory grandee Sir David told the Commons: “If I had my way I would not have gone for national insurance, I would have gone for reducing income tax.

“Why do I say that? Well there has been a lot of assertions made in the public domain… that national insurance is less inflationary than income tax.

“This is bogus nonsense. The only argument they have to support that is that national insurance will pull into the employment pool, some tens of thousands more people. Well, so will cutting income tax.

“Indeed, because income tax applies to people over the age of 65 it will also keep people in the workforce, highly skilled, highly capable people who we don’t want to retire at the moment.”

Vapes hit with new tax in Budget as part of Jeremy Hunt’s crackdown on smoking

Wednesday 6 March 2024 19:00 , Tara Cobham

Jeremy Hunt has announced a new tax on vapes as the government moved to crack down on smoking in the spring Budget.

The chancellor introduced a levy on the smoking alternatives in a bid to make them unaffordable for children. He said the move would take effect from October 2026.

It comes after the government in November last year made plans for a “smoke-free” generation by banning tobacco products for children turning 14 or younger.

Matt Mathers reports:

Vapes hit with new tax in Budget as part of Jeremy Hunt’s crackdown on smoking

Treasury Committee chairwoman welcomes child benefits charge changes

Wednesday 6 March 2024 18:45 , Tara Cobham

Treasury Committee chairwoman Harriett Baldwin has welcomed the Chancellor’s Budget and said increasing the high income child benefit charge would remove the disincentive of taking on work above £50,000.

The Government is set to increase the threshold at which the high-income child benefit charge starts from £50,000 to £60,000 from April.

The Conservative MP for West Worcestershire told the Commons: “It was great to hear the Chancellor today really focus on addressing this high-income child benefit charge.

“When we brought it in, and I voted for it at the time, £50,000 a year was a high rate of income. With the progress in terms of higher incomes, the median income in those days was about £22,000, now the median income is about £35,000 and so £50,000 these days is not more than about 40% over the median income.

“And that’s why it was absolutely right today that the Chancellor recognise that in his Budget statement, and he has made the taper that much less of a disincentive to people taking on work above that income level.

“Of course I would have loved to have seen him do more, but I am very grateful for what he has done.”

Treasury Committee chairwoman Harriett Baldwin has welcomed the Chancellor’s Budget and said increasing the high income child benefit charge would remove the disincentive of taking on work above £50,000 (AFP via Getty Images)
Treasury Committee chairwoman Harriett Baldwin has welcomed the Chancellor’s Budget and said increasing the high income child benefit charge would remove the disincentive of taking on work above £50,000 (AFP via Getty Images)

Hunt says £100k personal donation to local Tory party shows ‘commitment’ to area

Wednesday 6 March 2024 18:27 , Tara Cobham

Jeremy Hunt has admitted giving £100,000 of his own money to his constituency Conservative party, arguing “it’s a free country” and that it demonstrated his “commitment” to the area.

The Chancellor is seeking to boost his chances of re-election in his Godalming and Ash seat, amid warnings he is set to be ousted at the general election later this year.

The Surrey constituency is a key target seat for the Liberal Democrats as they aim to demolish the Conservative “Blue Wall” in southern England.

Sophie Wingate reports:

Hunt says £100k personal donation to local Tory party shows ‘commitment’ to area

Inflation to fall below 2% target in ‘next few months’, says OBR

Wednesday 6 March 2024 18:15 , Tara Cobham

Inflation is set to drop below the Government’s 2% target rate within a “few months” as the fiscal watchdog upgraded economic growth predictions for the next two years.

But the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) also warned that the slowdown in inflation could be knocked off course by disruption in the Middle East and surge by as much as 7% in a worst-case scenario.

The fresh economic forecasts came as Chancellor Jeremy Hunt confirmed a 2p cut in national insurance for employees and the self-employed during the important pre-election Budget.

Henry Saker-Clark reports:

Inflation to fall below 2% target in ‘next few months’, says OBR

Budget shows Tories continuing with ‘austerity agenda’, says Northern Ireland’s First Minister

Wednesday 6 March 2024 18:12 , Tara Cobham

Northern Ireland’s First Minister Michelle O’Neill said the Budget showed the Conservative Party continuing with its “austerity agenda”.

Speaking during a visit to a GAA club in Belfast, Ms O’Neill said: “We still need to see some of the detail but I think it’s fair to say that a general observation would be the Tories are continuing with an austerity agenda.

“We still have work to do in terms of securing a proper financial framework for here and that remains a work in progress for us.

“There are some Barnett consequentials to come across, in terms of what has been set out today, there’s obviously a welcome drop in national insurance contributions, that will be helpful to workers and families.

“But by and large there’s no additional money for capital.”

Northern Ireland’s First Minister Michelle O’Neill said the Budget showed the Conservative Party continuing with its ‘austerity agenda’ (AFP via Getty Images)
Northern Ireland’s First Minister Michelle O’Neill said the Budget showed the Conservative Party continuing with its ‘austerity agenda’ (AFP via Getty Images)

Tax calculator: See how Jeremy Hunt’s spring Budget will affect you

Wednesday 6 March 2024 18:03 , Tara Cobham

Jeremy Hunt has unveiled a further 2 per cent cut to national insurance in his 2024 Budget, as the chancellor seeks to entice voters ahead of this year’s general election.

Combined with last autumn’s identical national insurance cut, Mr Hunt claims the two tax giveaways will leave the average worker £900 better off.

Other measures to support people that were announced on Wednesday include an extension of the Household Support Fund and a rise in the earnings threshold for child benefit, from £50,000 to £60,000.

Andy Gregory reports:

Tax calculator: See how Jeremy Hunt’s Budget will affect you

Listen to Jeremy Hunt’s U-turn on non-dom taxes over two years

Wednesday 6 March 2024 18:02 , Tara Cobham

Listen to Jeremy Hunt’s U-turn over abolishing the non-dom tax status across two years.

In November 2022, the chancellor told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that he would rather the super-rich “stayed here and spent their money here”.

“The Treasury did not tell me it was going to help the economy to do this, that’s why I chose not to do it,” he said at the time.

However in Wednesday’s (6 March) Budget, Mr Hunt committed to scrapping the non-dom status for wealthy foreigners, putting the £2.7 billion a year raised as a result towards tax cuts, mirroring a Labour policy.

Holly Patrick reports:

Listen to Jeremy Hunt’s U-turn on non-dom taxes over two years

Rachel Reeves: Budget ‘lifts lid on 14 years of Tory economic failure’

Wednesday 6 March 2024 17:47 , Tara Cobham

Rachel Reeves has said the Budget has “lifted the lid on 14 years of Tory economic failure”.

Writing on X, formerly Twitter, the shadow chancellor said: “The Chancellor’s Budget has lifted the lid on fourteen years of Tory economic failure.

“Taxes are still rising, prices are still going up in the shops and mortgages are higher.

“Nothing Jeremy Hunt has said today changes that. It’s time for change. It’s time for an election.”

Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg criticises plans to abolish non-dom status

Wednesday 6 March 2024 17:43 , Tara Cobham

Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg criticised plans to abolish the non-dom status and to extend a windfall tax on oil and gas producers.

The Conservative former business secretary told the Commons he was “not at all keen” on plans to scrap the special tax status for non-domiciles.

Sir Jacob said: “The OBR (Office for Budget Responsibility) forecast expects 350,000 immigrants to come to this country net every year to 2028-29, that is built into their forecasts. We need to get control of that, we need to get control of the people who are coming in and undercutting the British workforce and lowering wages in things like social care.

“On the other hand, we want as many billionaires who are willing to come because they are very small in number and they contribute very largely to the economy. Attacking them, making it harder for them, may mean stealing the Labour Party’s clothes but is not good economic policy.”

Speaking about his opposition to extending the oil and gas windfall tax, the Tory former minister added: “We need more oil and gas. One of the reasons our productivity has been low and our economy stagnant compared to the United States is our much higher energy prices.

“We need to wean ourselves from the green ideology which is making us cold and poor.”

He also criticised forecasting by the OBR, describing it as “telling” that Chancellor Jeremy Hunt started his speech by speaking about “how many things the OBR has gone wrong”, and described their forecasting as a “real problem for policy-making”.

Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg criticised plans to abolish the non-dom status and to extend a windfall tax on oil and gas producers (PA)
Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg criticised plans to abolish the non-dom status and to extend a windfall tax on oil and gas producers (PA)

Sunak recused from policy talks on non-dom status to avoid conflict of interest

Wednesday 6 March 2024 17:41 , Tara Cobham

Rishi Sunak was recused from policy talks on the scrapping of the non-dom tax status – previously enjoyed by his wife – to avoid a “potential or perceived” conflict of interest, Downing Street has said.

Work on the measure was delegated to Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden to carry out with the Chancellor, it is understood.

Jeremy Hunt announced in the spring Budget that the status for wealthy overseas UK residents would be abolished, putting the £2.7 billion a year raised as a result towards tax cuts.

Nina Lloyd reports:

Sunak recused from policy talks on non-dom status to avoid conflict of interest

Braverman regrets there was no cut to income tax in Budget

Wednesday 6 March 2024 17:41 , Tara Cobham

Former home secretary Suella Braverman said she regrets there was no cut to income tax in the Chancellor’s Budget because this would have helped a “broader range of taxpayer”.

Ms Braverman told the Commons: “My preference would have been a 2p cut off the basic rate of income tax and an increase in the personal allowance and a raising of the income tax threshold – to properly fix a tax regime, which has become, I’m sad to say, a disincentive to work and endeavour in too many cases.

“The cut of 2p off the basic rate and the increase in personal allowance, say from £12,500 where it currently stands to £20,000 or even something like £15,000 or £16,000, would have helped poorer households and lifted about 20% of all taxpayers out of tax all together.

“Cutting income tax rather than national insurance helps a broader range of taxpayer, including workers, savers and pensioners.”

The Conservative MP for Fareham added: “I do regret that income tax was not chosen as the tax to cut today over national insurance because pensioners have lost out as a result.”

Former home secretary Suella Braverman with prime minister Rishi Sunak (WPA Rota)
Former home secretary Suella Braverman with prime minister Rishi Sunak (WPA Rota)

Hunt’s Budget deemed ‘betrayal of public services’ by Scottish Finance Secretary

Wednesday 6 March 2024 17:38 , Tara Cobham

Scotland’s Finance Secretary has blasted the Chancellor for a “betrayal of public services”, after he unveiled a Budget that included another cut to national insurance.

Jeremy Hunt told workers the levy will be reduced by a further 2p from April, following a similar reduction in January.

The two cuts combined will leave 2.4 million workers across Scotland an average of £900 a year better off, the UK Treasury said.

Katrine Bussey reports:

Hunt’s Budget deemed ‘betrayal of public services’ by Scottish Finance Secretary

Science Secretary falsely suggesting academic supported Hamas cost taxpayer £15,000

Wednesday 6 March 2024 17:37 , Tara Cobham

It cost taxpayers £15,000 to cover damages and legal fees after Science Secretary Michelle Donelan falsely suggested an academic supported Hamas, the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology said, adding the sum was paid “without admitting any liability”.