Rishi Sunak ‘itching to get back to’ Conservative austerity policies

Sir Keir Starmer told MPs the Chancellor’s Budget ‘papers over the cracks’ rather than rebuilding the foundations of the economy.

Sir Keir Starmer
Sir Keir Starmer

Rishi Sunak’s mask will soon be removed to reveal a Chancellor “itching” to pull away support from hard-pressed Britons, according to Sir Keir Starmer.

The Labour leader told MPs the Budget “simply papers over the cracks” rather than rebuilding the foundations of the economy.

He accused the Chancellor of trying to revived “failed” policies used by his predecessor George Osborne in a bid to boost the housing market.

Budget 2021
Rishi Sunak delivering his Budget to the House of Commons (House of Commons/PA)

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford warned that Mr Sunak’s Budget was laying the ground for “more Tory austerity, a decade more of Conservative cuts”.

Responding to Mr Sunak’s Budget speech, Sir Keir told MPs: “The Chancellor may think that this is time for a victory lap but I’m afraid this Budget won’t feel so good for the millions of key workers who are having their pay frozen, for the businesses swamped by debt, and the families paying more in council tax.

“And the millions of people who are out of work or worried about losing their job, and although the Chancellor spoke for almost an hour we heard nothing about a long-term plan to fix social care.”

Sir Keir said the Chancellor is “betting on a recovery fuelled by a consumer spending blitz”.

In a nod to reports of spiralling costs for the refurbishment of the flat over No 11 Downing Street, Sir Keir joked: “In fairness, if my next door neighbour was spending tens of thousands of pounds redecorating their flat, I would probably do the same.

“But the central problem in our economy is a deep-rooted insecurity and inequality and this Budget isn’t the answer to that.”

The NHS and care homes would have been “front and centre” of a Labour budget, Sir Keir said.

“Behind the spin, the videos and the photo ops, we all know the Chancellor doesn’t believe in an active and enterprising government.

“We know he’s itching to get back to his free-market principles and to pull away support as quickly as he can.

“One day these restrictions will end, one day we’ll all be able to take our masks off and so will the Chancellor, and then you’ll see who he really is.

“And this Budget sets it up perfectly, because this is a Budget that didn’t even attempt to rebuild the foundations of our economy or to secure the country’s long-term prosperity.

“Instead, it did the job the Chancellor always intended, a quick fix, papering over the cracks.

“The party opposite spent a decade weakening the foundations of our economy, now they pretend they can rebuild it. But the truth is, they won’t confront what went wrong in the past and they have no plan for the future.”

On housing, Sir Keir earlier said the Government should have announced a new generation of “genuinely affordable” council houses.

He said: “Instead, 230,000 council homes have been lost since 2010. Yet the Chancellor focused today on returning to subsidising 95% of mortgages.”

The Labour leader added: “It’s what Osborne and (David) Cameron came up with in 2013. And what did that do? It fuelled a housing bubble, it pushed up prices and made owning a home more difficult. So much for generation buy.

“I’ve been saying for weeks that this Budget would go back, I didn’t expect the Chancellor to lift a failed policy from eight years ago.”

Conservative MP and chairman of the Treasury Select Committee Mel Stride said the rise in corporation tax from 19% to 25% in 2023 is “quite a hike” but “reasonable”.

Budget 2021
Ian Blackford (House of Commons/PA)

Mr Blackford said the Government’s Budget does not account for “the bollocks that they have made of Brexit”.

He added: “Between the lines of the statement today there were also the surest of signals.

“The conversion of this Prime Minister and Chancellor to increased public spending was only ever temporary. Today we have a Tory Chancellor returning to type – he is clearly itching to turn off the state spending taps.

“This Budget is carefully laying the ground for more Tory austerity, a decade more of Conservative cuts.”

Mr Sunak shook his head in response.

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