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Theresa May and George Osborne attack Rishi Sunak’s budget

Written by on 09/03/2021

Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s spend now, tax later budget has come under attack from ex-prime minister Theresa May and former chancellor George Osborne.

In a powerful intervention in the House of Commons, Mrs May launched a budget broadside and clashed with a newly-appointed cabinet minister who mocked her industrial policy.

And Mr Osborne, chancellor under Mrs May’s predecessor David Cameron, criticised Mr Sunak’s proposed hikes in corporation tax, claiming they would not make the UK appear enterprising or pro-business.

Mr Osborne said raising corporation tax was a mistake and claimed the chancellor would have raised VAT instead if the Conservatives’ 2019 election manifesto had not ruled it out.

Speaking on the final day of the five-day Commons debate on the budget, Mrs May accused Mr Sunak of neglecting aviation, innovation and research and development.

She also claimed lockdown measures had hit women hardest – with many forced to abandon their career because of home schooling – and demanded help for female entrepreneurs.

And she hit out at the new Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, appointed in January, as he described one of her flagship policies – her “modern industrial strategy” – as a “pudding without a theme”.

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Mrs May challenged him: “Will he recognise that the creation of a new vaccine centre and medicines manufacturing centre were part of the life sciences deal which were enabled by the modern industrial strategy.

“Will he welcome the modern industrial strategy?”

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Minutes later, in a highly-critical speech, Mrs May began by saying: “I continue to fail to understand why the Treasury, and the business department I fear as well, seem institutionally incapable of understanding the significance of the aviation sector for jobs and for our economy.”

On COVID hitting women hard, she said: “There is evidence that lockdown measures have been particularly difficult for women and there are women who have abandoned their careers because they found it impossible to juggle the requirements of lockdown with home schooling and so forth together with their careers.

“We need those women in the workplace, we need those female entrepreneurs for our future.

“I would urge the government to look actively at what it can do to deal with this issue and encourage women entrepreneurs.”

On innovation and research and development, Mrs May said: “I have to say: stop consulting, just get on and do something.

“Extend the definition of R&D expenditure, increase the rate, but act – what we need is investment in innovation, not in chief executive’s jacuzzis.”

And defending her modern industrial strategy, which she launched in January 2017 as a post-Brexit initiative, she told Mr Kwarteng: “Make changes where necessary, not just for the sake of making a change.”

HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS/BRITAIN-BUDGET
Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Sunak presents the budget box in London
Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak holds the budget box outside Downing Street in London, Britain, March 3, 2021. REUTERS/John Sibley TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Image: Rishi Sunak unveiled plans to hike corporation tax in his budget

Mr Osborne, speaking at an Institute for Government online event, said: “The idea you can increase Britain’s business tax by 25% and there will be no consequence – I don’t think even he would claim that either – is a mistake.

“Tax increases have consequences and we will wait to see – if this tax increase does indeed go ahead – what impact it will have.

“You’re just sending a message around the world that Britain is not a particularly enterprising or pro-business place at the very moment when you want to be encouraging that in a recovery.”

Mr Osborne added: “Ultimately, when I was faced with a similar choice on how to raise money I preferred the VAT lever to the corporate tax lever. I wanted to send a signal that Britain is a pro-business place.

“I suspect the chancellor, if he had not been constrained by the Tory manifesto, he would have preferred to have raised VAT.”

 Sky News

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