Is Rishi Sunak a low tax chancellor? He certainly likes to tell anyone who will listen that he is. Yet his actions tend to suggest the opposite. The tax burden is currently on track to reach its highest level since the early 1950s, and while Sunak unveiled one big tax slash in the Budget in the universal credit taper rate cut, the main thrust of Sunak’s announcements was spend, spend, spend.
Tonight Sunak addressed Tory MPs at a meeting of the 1922 committee. After announcing £150 billion in extra public spending, Sunak sought to convince his party that, despite this, he was committed to lowering taxes. Having said in the chamber that he wanted taxes to be going down, not up by the end of this parliament, the Chancellor went further to his colleagues, telling them that ‘every marginal pound we have should be put into lowering people’s taxes’. This led to cheers, according to one in the room.
Sunak said that the spending commitments he had made meant that the money is there and it’s now for the government ‘to deliver’ with it. He said that it was only right that reducing taxes began with the lowest paid — through the UC change — as these people ought to be the priority.
Given Sunak has found himself under fire for briefing and announcing too many measures to before the Budget and thereby not showing sufficient respect to the Commons, there are plenty of Tory MPs who began the day in a rather unforgiving mood. However, the fact that the ‘rabbit’ of the Budget was a UC tax cut means that several MPs have been brought round. As for Sunak’s tax talk, it’s clear that both Boris Johnson and Sunak would like to go into the next election — whether 2023 or 2024 — having lowered taxes and restored the party’s Thatcherite reputation. But after so many setbacks over the past two years, the sense among senior Tories is they will believe it when they see it.
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