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Jeremy Hunt says 'significant' tax cuts in Budget 'unlikely'

Jeremy Hunt has said it is "unlikely" that the Government will be able to announce "any significant tax cuts" at the Budget in March.

The Chancellor said the UK is currently going through a "difficult patch" but he believes the nation will "get through it" and make it to the "tremendous opportunities on the other side".

He told the BBC: "It is unlikely that we will have the headroom for any significant tax cuts.

"What I would say is we are the sixth largest economy in the world, we are going through a difficult period... but even despite that doom and gloom just a couple of weeks ago PWC did a survey which said Britain was the third most attractive country to grow a business in... so I think the verdict of overseas companies and overseas executives is that Britain is an extremely exciting country to invest and grow [in].

"I think we should remember that and not get too sucked up in the latest economic statistics because this is a difficult patch but we can get through it and there are tremendous opportunities on the other side."

Mr Hunt had earlier used a major speech in central London this morning to argue that the "best tax cut right now is a cut in inflation" as he stressed the importance of hitting the Government’s goal of halving inflation this year.

You can follow the latest updates below. 


04:00 PM

That is all for today...

Thank you for joining me for today's politics live blog.

I will be back early on Monday.


03:34 PM

Rishi Sunak restates commitment to HS2

Rishi Sunak has reiterated his commitment to the HS2 high speed rail project following reports that the Government was considering scaling it back because of rising costs.

Speaking to broadcasters this afternoon, the Prime Minister said: "The Government is committed to delivering all the plans that it’s announced with rail, but as well as these very large rail schemes, which are of course important, what I’m also keen to do is make sure that the Government invests in local transportation around the areas where people live, whether that’s better local roads, or we’re filling in potholes, putting in more bus lanes, road junctions, bypasses.

"All the day-to-day bits of transport infrastructure that people also care about. We’re getting on and delivering those too."


03:13 PM

Jeremy Hunt: 'Significant tax cuts' at the Budget are 'unlikely'

Jeremy Hunt has said it is "unlikely" that he will announce "any significant tax cuts" at the Budget in March.

The Chancellor told the BBC that the UK is going through a "difficult patch" but the nation will "get through it".

He said: "It is unlikely that we will have the headroom for any significant tax cuts. What I would say is we are the sixth largest economy in the world, we are going through a difficult period... but even despite that doom and gloom just a couple of weeks ago PWC did a survey which said Britain was the third most attractive country to grow a business in... so I think the verdict of overseas companies and overseas executives is that Britain is an extremely exciting country to invest and grow [in].

"I think we should remember that and not get too sucked up in the latest economic statistics because this is a difficult patch but we can get through it and there are tremendous opportunities on the other side."


03:06 PM

Sunak trails Starmer on ‘strong leader’ question

Fewer than one in three voters view Rishi Sunak as a “strong leader”, according to a new poll.

A survey conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies for The Telegraph found that 28 per cent of people believe Mr Sunak is a “strong leader”.

That puts the Prime Minister behind Sir Keir Starmer who secured the backing of 37 per cent of respondents.


02:50 PM

Two thirds view Rishi Sunak as ‘out of touch’

More than two thirds of voters believe Rishi Sunak is "out of touch" with the struggles of ordinary families.

A new Redfield & Wilton Strategies poll for The Telegraph found 39 per cent strongly agreed that the Prime Minister is "out of touch" and 32 per cent agreed - 71 per cent overall.

Just 12 per cent of respondents said they disagreed with the idea that the PM is "out of touch". The poll was conducted on January 25.


02:20 PM

Sir Keir Starmer hits back at criticism from Nicola Sturgeon

Sir Keir Starmer has hit back at criticism from Nicola Sturgeon after she claimed Labour is now a "pale imitation" of the Conservative Party (see the post below at 12.04).

Sir Keir told LBC Radio: "Can I firstly gently suggest to Nicola Sturgeon that she might want to roll up her sleeves and concentrate on the health service in Scotland, which is, I mean, we're talking about the ambulance crisis here. Been an ambulance crisis in Scotland for a very long time. The military driving the ambulances even last year. The education system is on its knees.

"So I think that Nicola Sturgeon may want to spend a bit of time fixing some of the problems that are actually under her control in Scotland."


01:39 PM

CBI: 'Much to get behind' in Chancellor's speech

Tony Danker, the director general of the CBI business group, said there was "much to get behind" in Jeremy Hunt's speech this morning.

He said: "After doing so much to stabilise the economy at the end of last year, the Chancellor has rightly now shifted gear to renew his focus on growth.

"It’s only by improving the UK’s languishing performance on productivity that we can realise the huge economic potential in every corner of the country.

"There is much to get behind here with the Chancellor’s emphasis on using innovation as the foundation of the UK’s future economy and championing the strengths of the UK tech sector.

"He now has a strong framework for growth. And we hope the Budget in less than two months will show strong actions to move us forward."


01:10 PM

Nation split over paying for GP appointment

Sajid Javid, the Tory former health secretary, recently said there should be a discussion about moving to a form of “co-payment” in the NHS, where wealthier people pay for some of their care.

He suggested the health service would not “survive many more years” unless there is fundamental reform.

A new poll for The Telegraph conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies on January 25 revealed the nation is split on the idea of paying extra for care.

Asked if they would support or oppose people who could afford it paying for GP appointments, some 46 per cent said they would oppose such a move while 31 per cent would support it.


12:48 PM

Majority of people do not believe NHS in current form will exist in 20 years’ time

A majority of people in the UK do not believe the NHS will exist in its current form in 20 years’ time.

Major questions are currently being asked about the long term sustainability of the health service as it creaks under the strain of winter pressures and treatment backlogs.

A Redfield & Wilton Strategies poll for The Telegraph asked people if they believe the NHS will still exist in its current form in 20 years’ time.

Some 56 per cent of respondents said “no” and just 22 per cent answered “yes”.

When the timeframe was extended to 50 years, almost two thirds - 62 per cent - said “no” and 14 per cent said “yes”.


12:19 PM

'Talk of British declinism may be unhelpful politically but it is our economic reality'

The Adam Smith Institute said the Government must lower the nation's tax burden if it is to reverse "British declinism" as the think tank responded to Jeremy Hunt's speech.

Connor Axiotes, director of communications at the think tank, said: "Talk of British declinism may be unhelpful politically but it is our economic reality. We have expensive, inefficient public services funded by record high taxation, a chronic undersupply of housing, and a productivity crisis.

"The Chancellor was right when he said a decade of black swan events have impeded British economic progress. But there are measures which are in our control and policy changes can improve our lot.

"This government needs to go further by using the levers at their disposal to turn British declinism around: tackling childcare costs, building houses, lowering the tax burden and increasing private investment in the UK."


12:04 PM

Sturgeon claims Starmer needs 'more guts to take on the Tories'

Nicola Sturgeon said Sir Keir Starmer needs to show "a bit more guts to take on the Tories" as she suggested the current version of Labour is a "pale imitation" of the Conservative Party.

Asked if she believed Sir Keir is "unprincipled", Ms Sturgeon told The News Agents podcast: "I don’t know how you can go from being the Keir Starmer that I and the SNP worked with over Brexit when Theresa May and Boris Johnson were prime ministers to being somebody who now won’t even countenance the possibility of going back into the single market and say you’ve got principles.

"But if I was in Labour, and I’m not, so I’m having to imagine myself into this position, what would worry me if I was south of the border and in Labour is, you know, Labour, you said it seems inevitable that Labour win the next general election.

"One of the things I’ve learned in my many years in politics is you never treat anything as inevitable. And if I was in Labour, I’d really worry about the whole just be the ‘pale imitation’. Why would people vote for the pale imitation?

"He needs to have a bit more principle, a bit more difference and actually a bit more guts to take on the Tories and take on the right-wing media."


11:28 AM

Chancellor: 'I haven't paid an HMRC fine'

Jeremy Hunt said he has never paid an HMRC fine as he was grilled over Nadhim Zahawi's tax affairs.

Rishi Sunak has launched an ethics probe into Mr Zahawi over a multimillion-pound tax dispute the Tory chairman resolved by paying a penalty.

Mr Hunt was asked this morning to confirm that he has never paid an HMRC tax penalty and he told the BBC: "There is an independent process going on looking at Nadhim Zahawi and it wouldn't be right for me to comment on that.

"I don't normally comment about my own tax records but I am Chancellor so for the record I haven't paid an HMRC fine."


11:13 AM

Jeremy Hunt insists HS2 will finish at Euston

Jeremy Hunt has now rejected reports that HS2 may not finish at Euston in central London as originally planned (see the post below at 08.02).

Asked if he and the Government are committed to HS2 all the way to Euston, the Chancellor told the BBC: "Yes, we are and I don't see any conceivable circumstance in which that would not end up at Euston."


11:10 AM

Education Secretary urges teachers to 'work with' her to keep schools open during strikes

Gillian Keegan, the Education Secretary, has asked teachers to "work with" the Government to keep schools open during "disruptive strike action" next month.

Speaking at the Church of England’s fifth National Education Conference in London today, she said teachers were facing "pressures" under "economic challenges".

She told the conference that the Department for Education was given in the autumn statement the £2 billion that major teaching unions had asked for in a joint letter when Ms Keegan first entered her position.

"Unions asked and we delivered," she said. The Education Secretary added that she knows there is "much much more that we need to do".

"My ask of all of you is that you now work with me to keep as many schools open and as many children in school as possible during the disruptive strike action," she said.


10:59 AM

Lib Dems: 'Government's economic record nothing less than a shambles'

Sarah Olney, the Liberal Democrats' Treasury spokeswoman, said the Government's "economic record is nothing less than a shambles" as she responded to Jeremy Hunt's speech.

"Jeremy Hunt's speech is cold comfort for families and pensioners facing unbearable price rises," Ms Olney said.

"This Government's economic record is nothing less than a shambles and the British public will see right through this desperate attempt by yet another Conservative Chancellor to rewrite history."


10:25 AM

Labour: 'Tories have no plan for now, and no plan for the future'

Rachel Reeves, Labour's shadow chancellor, said the Tories "have no plan for now, and no plan for the future" as she responded to Jeremy Hunt's speech.

Ms Reeves said: "Britain has so much potential. From creating good, new jobs in the industries of the future, to making our country the best place to start and grow a business, Labour’s proper plan for growth will grasp those opportunities and make our economy stronger to face up to the challenges.

"13 years of Tory economic failure have left living standards and growth on the floor, crashed our economy, and driven up mortgages and bills.

"The Tories have no plan for now, and no plan for the future. It’s time for a Labour government that will build a better Britain."


10:14 AM

Chancellor: Government will cut taxes 'when the time is right'

Jeremy Hunt said the Government will look to cut taxes only "when the time is right".

Asked if he could announce tax cuts this year, the Chancellor said: "The biggest and quickest tax cut that the Prime Minister and I can deliver for families up and down the country is to halve inflation."

He added: "We are committed, as I made very clear, to a low tax economy. The difference between Conservatives and Labour is that we cut taxes when we can, they never do and that is because we recognise that a low tax economy is one of the vital ingredients for dynamism, entrepreneurialism, to encourage people to take risks and that is why we want to do it when the time is right."

Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor, answers questions after delivering a speech at Bloomberg's European headquarters in central London this morning - Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor, answers questions after delivering a speech at Bloomberg's European headquarters in central London this morning - Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

10:12 AM

Jeremy Hunt declines to be drawn on reports of HS2 being scaled back

Jeremy Hunt was asked about reports that HS2 could be scaled back (see the post below at 08.02).

The Chancellor would not comment on the specifics but said he is proud that shovels are in the ground for the high speed rail project.

He said: "HS2 was a specific priority for me in the autumn statement. I think that it is a source of national embarrassment that the Japanese opened their first high speed line between Tokyo and Osaka in 1964, two years before I was born, and I am incredibly proud that under a Conservative government for the first time we have shovels in the ground for the London to Birmingham part of HS2 and we are absolutely committed to showing that we can deliver big important infrastructure projects."

Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor, is pictured this morning after delivering a speech on the economy at Bloomberg's HQ in central London - Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor, is pictured this morning after delivering a speech on the economy at Bloomberg's HQ in central London - Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

10:07 AM

'I am not going to talk about my personal tax affairs'

Jeremy Hunt is now answering questions after he finished his speech.

The Chancellor was asked if he has ever paid a penalty to HMRC.

He replied: "On your first question, I am not going to talk about my personal tax affairs but I don't think there is anything you would find interesting to write about, if I can put it that way."


09:57 AM

Jeremy Hunt promises 'fundamental programme of reforms' to get more people back into work

Jeremy Hunt has promised a "fundamental programme of reforms" to get more people back into work.

The Chancellor said that approximately one fifth of UK adults of working age are economically inactive - about 6.6million people.

Of those people about 1.4million want to work and the further five million do not, he said.

Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor, is pictured delivering a speech at Bloomberg's HQ in central London this morning - Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor, is pictured delivering a speech at Bloomberg's HQ in central London this morning - Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

He said: "Total employment is nearly 300,000 people lower than pre-pandemic, with around one fifth of working age adults economically inactive. Excluding students that amounts to 6.6million people. An enormous and shocking waste of talent and potential. Of that 6.6million people, around 1.4million want to work, but a further five million don't.

"So it is time for a fundamental programme of reforms to support people with long term conditions or mental illness to overcome the barriers and prejudices that prevent them from working.

"We will never harness the full potential of our country unless we unlock it for each and every one of our citizens. Nor will we fix our productivity puzzle unless everyone who can participate does.

"So to those who retired early after the pandemic or haven't found the right role after furlough, I say Britain needs you and we will look at the conditions necessary to make work worth your while."


09:48 AM

Chancellor: 'Sound money must come first'

Jeremy Hunt said the Government's plan for boosting economic growth and prosperity is based on four pillars.

The Chancellor described them as the "four 'Es' of economic growth and prosperity": Enterprise, education, employment and everywhere.

Mr Hunt said that in order to spark the creation of more new businesses in the coming years "firstly we need lower taxes" and the UK "should be explicit" that "high taxes directly affect the incentives which determine decisions" about where businesses choose to base themselves.

The Chancellor said that "sound money must come first" but added: "But our ambition should be to have nothing less than the most competitive tax regime of any major country. That means restraint on spending.

"In case anyone is in any doubt about who will actually deliver that restraint to make a low tax economy possible, I gently point out that in the three weeks since Labour promised no big Government chequebook they have made £45billion of unfunded spending commitments."


09:41 AM

Jeremy Hunt: UK must be 'straight about our weaknesses'

Jeremy Hunt told business leaders that he wants their help to "help our country achieve something that is both ambitious and strategic", namely turning the nation into the "world's next Silicon Valley".

The Chancellor said that firms which choose to make the UK their base will see the Government "back you to the hilt".

Mr Hunt said the UK must also be "straight about our weaknesses" as he highlighted prolonged productivity problems.


09:37 AM

UK is 'powerfully positioned' in growth industries - Chancellor

Jeremy Hunt said that "when it comes to the innovation industries that will shape and define this century, the UK is powerfully positioned to play a leading role".

The Chancellor said that the UK has produced more "unicorn" tech companies than France and Germany combined.

Mr Hunt also said the UK is a "world leader" in clean energy technology and green opportunities for UK businesses could be worth £1trillion between now and 2030.


09:34 AM

Chancellor: 'Declinism about Britain is wrong'

The Chancellor said that the Government's plan to halve inflation will "require patience and discipline" and "so too will our plan for prosperity and growth".

Jeremy Hunt said the UK will also need a sense of "optimism" if it is to achieve a better economic future.

Speaking in central London, Mr Hunt said: "Declinism about Britain is just wrong. It has always been wrong in the past and it is wrong today."


09:31 AM

Jeremy Hunt: 'Best tax cut right now is a cut in inflation'

Jeremy Hunt is now on his feet at Bloomberg's London HQ as he delivers a major speech on the economy.

The Chancellor said that the UK has faced a "decade of black swan events".

Turning to current economic challenges, Mr Hunt said that "the best tax cut right now is a cut in inflation".


09:29 AM

Nadine Dorries to host new talk show on TalkTV

Nadine Dorries, the former culture secretary, has been announced as the host of a new Friday night talk show on TalkTV.

Friday Night with Nadine will start on February 3 from 8pm and her first guest will be Boris Johnson.


09:11 AM

Income tax cut is most wanted among voters - poll

A reduction in income tax is the tax cut voters want to see the most, a new poll has suggested.

A Redfield & Wilton Strategies survey for The Telegraph conducted on January 25 asked people which taxes, if any, should be cut.

Income tax was the most popular choice as it was picked out by 51 per cent of respondents. Fuel duty was in second place with 40 per cent closely followed by National Insurance with 37 per cent.


09:02 AM

Majority of voters would support Jeremy Hunt cutting taxes at March Budget

A majority of voters would support the Government cutting taxes at the Budget in March, according to a new Redfield & Wilton Strategies poll for The Telegraph.

Some 22 per cent of people said they would strongly support cuts and 32 per cent said they would support cuts.

Just 11 per cent of people (eight per cent oppose, three per cent strongly oppose) said they would be against tax cuts.

A quarter of people - 26 per cent - said they would neither support not oppose tax cuts in March, the poll conducted on January 25 found.


08:57 AM

Poll: Four in 10 want Government to cut taxes now

Just over four in 10 people believe now is the time for the Government to be lowering taxes, according to an exclusive poll for The Telegraph.

A Redfield & Wilton Strategies survey conducted on January 25, found that 43 per cent of people believe the Government should be cutting taxes now.

About one third - 32 per cent - said taxes should be maintained at current levels while 10 per cent of people said taxes should be increased.


08:43 AM

'You do need these stations to be centrally located'

Henri Murison, chief executive of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said a London terminus for HS2 should be "centrally located" after reports the proposed line could be changed to terminate in a west London suburb.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Murison said: "I believe Manchester will still get its line but my argument would be, I’m interested in what’s right for the whole of the UK. And actually, even for the north of England, not going to Euston has a number of significant disadvantages.

"Because actually people in the north of England, people in Birmingham will want to get access to central London — that’s what they currently have through the normal mainline network.

"And so, for conventional services, we do have access right into central London, the same way Piccadilly station is right in the centre of Manchester. You do need these stations to be centrally located."


08:28 AM

Labour: Scaling back HS2 would be an 'insult' to taxpayers

Labour said the idea that HS2 may not finish at Euston Station in central London is "a nonsense" and an "insult" to the taxpayer (see the post below at 08.02).

Andrew Gwynne, the shadow health minister, said the high speed rail line must "go all the way to London".

He told Sky News: "From a Manchester perspective we have heard all this before because we were also promised HS3 linking Liverpool to Hull and to Newcastle and to cities and towns across the north and the Government cut that back so you can have high speed between Liverpool and the edge of Manchester at the Yorkshire border and then you trundle across the rest of the north on slow trains.

"It sounds exactly the same. If we are going to have this infrastructure project, and it is a huge infrastructure project costing many billions of pounds, if we are going to spend many biullionsof pounds going from Manchester, Birmingham to London, you go all the way to London.

"I think it is an insult to all those communities and to the taxpayer if we cut off HS2 at the edge of London and meaning that all those benefits that you get from extra capacity, high speed trains, stop short because all you do is you get to the edge of the city and then you've still got to find your way from that depo to central London. It is a nonsense."


08:18 AM

Labour accuses Tories of 'running down the country' ahead of Chancellor's speech

Andrew Gwynne, Labour's shadow health minister, accused the Tories of "running down the country" as he rejected the claim that some people are guilty of "talking down the country".

Asked about Jeremy Hunt suggesting people should be more optimistic about the UK (see the post below at 07.42), Mr Gwynne told Sky News: "It is all fine and well saying that people are talking down the country, I don't believe that anybody is talking down the country, it is the Tory Government that is running down the country. We have had 13 years of the same messaging.

"Tory chancellor after Tory chancellor has talked about the need for growth, the need for productivity, the need for investment over the long term, the need for infrastructure, the need for levelling up."


08:09 AM

'Time for ministers to pull the plug on HS2'

The Taxpayers' Alliance campaign group said ministers should "pull the plug" on the entire HS2 scheme following reports it could be scaled back.

Joe Ventre, digital campaign manager for the group, said: "HS2 has gone off the rails in spectacular fashion. A scaling back of this project would be welcome, but taxpayers would still be left with an eye-watering bill.

"It’s time for ministers to show some backbone and pull the plug on this sorry scheme."


08:02 AM

HS2 'may not run to central London'

There are major question marks over the future of HS2 this morning after reports that the Government's flagship infrastructure project could be dramatically changed.

HS2, which is designed to boost transport links between London, the Midlands and the North of England, is supposed to have a central London terminus at Euston.

But The Sun has reported that soaring inflation means the high speed rail project may not run to Euston until 2038 – or that the terminus could be scrapped entirely, with trains instead stopping at a new hub at Old Oak Common in west London’s suburbs.

Commuters would then have to finish their journeys into central London by using the new Elizabeth Line. The Sun also reported that officials are even considering delaying the entire project by two-to-five years.

The Government has refused to confirm that HS2 will reach Euston, with a Department for Transport spokesman saying: "The Government remains committed to delivering HS2 to Manchester, as confirmed in the autumn statement.

"As well as supporting tens of thousands of jobs, the project will connect regions across the UK, improve capacity on our railways and provide a greener option of travel."


07:52 AM

'Long term prosperity based on British genius and British hard work'

The Chancellor will argue just after 9am that by making the most of "British genius" the Government can unlock "long term prosperity" for the UK.

Jeremy Hunt is expected to say: "Our plan for the years that follow is long term prosperity based on British genius and British hard work. [And] world-beating enterprises to make Britain the world’s next Silicon Valley."


07:42 AM

Chancellor to caution against 'declinism' and economic 'gloom'

Jeremy Hunt will use his speech this morning to caution against "declinism" and claims of economic "gloom". The Chancellor will argue that since 2010 the UK has actually grown faster than some of its main international rivals.

He is expected to say: "Declinism about Britain was wrong in the past - and it is wrong today. Some of the gloom is based on statistics that do not reflect the whole picture.

"Like every G7 country, our growth was slower in the years after the financial crisis than the years before it. But since 2010, the UK has grown faster than France, Japan and Italy. Since the Brexit referendum, we have grown at about the same rate as Germany.

"If we look further ahead, the case for declinism becomes weaker still. The UK is poised to play a leading role in Europe and across the world in the growth sectors which will define this century."


07:39 AM

Jeremy Hunt to vow to utilise Brexit 'freedoms' to boost UK prosperity in major speech

Jeremy Hunt will deliver a major speech on the economy this morning as he vows to take advantage of the UK's Brexit "freedoms" to boost prosperity and productivity.

The Chancellor is due to deliver a keynote address at Bloomberg's European headquarters in London just after 9am as he sets the scene for the Budget in March.

Mr Hunt is expected to say that post-Brexit reforms which will be implemented in the coming months will unlock £100 billion of private investment in the UK this decade.

He is expected to say: "Confidence in the future starts with honesty about the present, and we should not shy away from the biggest challenge we face which is our poor productivity. Our plan for long term prosperity tackles that challenge head on.

"It is a plan necessitated, energised and made possible by Brexit which will succeed if it becomes a catalyst for the bold choices we need to take.

"Our plan for growth is a plan built on the freedoms which Brexit provides. It is a plan to raise productivity. It is a plan to use the proceeds of growth to support our public services at home, to support businesses in the new low carbon economy and to support democracy abroad. It is the right course for our country and the role in the world to which we aspire."