Politics

‘Libertarian jihadists’: Senior Tory attacks govt as Hunt says ‘nothing off table’ on tax cuts

A senior Tory has accused the government of looking “like libertarian jihadists” and treating the country as “laboratory mice” over the past few weeks.

Robert Halfon, former deputy chairman of the Conservative Party and an education minister under Theresa May, said he believes Liz Truss needs to apologise to the public for the economic turmoil caused by the mini-budget three weeks ago.

He told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme: “I worry that over the past few weeks the government has looked like libertarian jihadists and treated the whole country as laboratory mice on which to carry out an ultra-free market experiment.

“There’s been one horror story after another.”

Cut to basic rate of income tax could be delayed – follow live politics updates

He added that the public is “frightened” about what is happening to the economy and said the prime minister needs to set out a “real vision” for the future of Britain.

Mr Halfon, who now chairs the education select committee, said he “welcomed” some of the comments made by Jeremy Hunt on his first day as the new chancellor after Kwasi Kwarteng was sacked on Friday.

More on Jeremy Hunt

Ahead of Mr Kwarteng’s sacking, Mr Halfon accused Ms Truss of trashing “the last 10 years” of Conservative government during a meeting of backbench Tory MPs she was addressing.

He told the prime minister the mini-budget disproportionately benefited the wealthy and meant she had abandoned “workers’ conservatism”, The Times reported.

Sir Charles Bean, former deputy at the Bank of England, rubbished the government’s claim the recent market turmoil was due to a “global phenomenon”.

He told Sophy Ridge on Sunday it was “disingenuous” to say it is entirely due to global events and said the UK economy was similar to Germany, but now looks “more like Italy and Greece”.

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Former BoE dept on UK economy

Is defence spending pledge off the books?

Andrew Griffith, financial secretary to the Treasury, hinted Ms Truss may abandon her campaign pledges, including a promise to lift defence spending from 2% to 3% by the end of the decade.

Asked specifically about committing to an increase in defence spending, he told Sophy Ridge: “There are no commitments, I’m afraid, that I can make at 9am on a Sunday morning because we’re going into a process.

“I think in fairness, you’d be the first to say ‘why would you be making decisions without taking those into full consideration and without, of course, involving the OBR’, which is something that I think all of us have said that with hindsight would have been nicer to do.”

Read more:

Hunt warns of difficult decisions ahead on spending and tax
Joe Biden labels Liz Truss’ economic plan a ‘mistake’ – and hints others think so too

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Treasury minister on defence spending

Leading defence think tank, the Royal United Services Institute, calculated increasing defence spending to 3% of national income by 2030 would mean more than 40,000 extra military personnel and an extra £157 billion in spending.

But if that commitment is ditched, highly respected Defence Secretary Ben Wallace would likely resign, Sky News defence and security editor Deborah Haynes said.

Asked whether any backtracking on defence spending goals would be a resigning issue, a defence source said Mr Wallace would hold the prime minister to the pledges made.

That commitment appears to be in the balance after Mr Hunt this weekend repeatedly said he will ask all government departments to find “efficiency savings”.

Liz Truss appoints Jeremy Hunt as chancellor. Pic: Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street
Image:
Pic: Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street

‘Not taking anything off the table’

In his latest comments, Mr Hunt told the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme: “I’m going to be asking every government department to find further efficiency savings.

“I’m not taking anything off the table, I want to keep as many of those tax cuts as I possibly can, because our long-term health depends on being a low-tax economy. And I strongly believe that.”

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Mr Hunt added that he does not think the future will be “anything like” the former period of austerity under David Cameron and George Osborne.

Labour’s Jonathan Reynolds, the shadow business secretary, said the last three weeks of Conservative Party action has been a “disgrace” and an “embarrassment”.

“I think every time Conservative ministers come on and pretend somehow that this isn’t their responsibility, confidence falls further,” he told Sky News.

“Who is in charge of this government? What are this government’s policies? I don’t know the answer to those questions.”

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