Tory former Cabinet minister Michael Gove said Liz Truss’s plans to pay for vast tax cuts with increased borrowing were “not Conservative” as he threatened to vote against the mini-budget.
The veteran of government, who is influential in the Tory party, said he was “profoundly” concerned about the £45 billion’s worth of tax cuts, particularly the abolition of the top income tax rate.
Conservative chairman Jake Berry warned any rebels during a Commons vote on the plans would be turfed out of the parliamentary party, intensifying a row as the party conference began in Birmingham.
Damian Green, a former deputy prime minister, warned the Tories would lose the next election if “we end up painting ourselves as the party of the rich”.
Tory ex-chancellor George Osborne said it was “touch and go whether the Chancellor can survive” the fall-out, telling the Andrew Neil Show it would be “curtains” for Mr Kwarteng if his speech on Monday went badly.
And Andrew Bowie, who was parliamentary private secretary to Theresa May when she was in No 10, agreed with Mr Gove that unfunded tax cuts were not Conservative.
Mr Gove welcomed the Prime Minister acknowledging she had made mistakes around the mini-budget but said she displayed an “inadequate realisation” of the scale of the problem.
He told the Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg show that cutting the 45% income tax rate for the highest earners was a “display of the wrong values” and called for Ms Truss to U-turn.
The MP even suggested he could vote against the plans in the House of Commons, as Conservative critics eye a possible rebellion.
“I don’t believe it’s right,” he said, when asked if he would vote for the mini-budget when pressed on the BBC One programme.
Ms Truss had earlier admitted she could have been better at “laying the ground” for the plans that have sparked a backlash on the financial and mortgage markets.
But Mr Gove said there remained “an inadequate realisation at the top of Government about the scale of change required”.
He said there were “two major things” that were problematic with the plans set out by the Prime Minister and Chancellor on September 23.
“The first is the sheer risk of using borrowed money to fund tax cuts. That’s not Conservative,” he said.
The second, Mr Gove argued, was the move to cut the top rate of income tax and axe the cap on bankers’ bonuses “at a time when people are suffering”.
Mr Gove has vast experience in government, having held Cabinet positions under Boris Johnson, Theresa May and David Cameron, and is popular among Tory MPs.
He insisted he was not leading a co-ordinated rebellion of Conservatives but could face losing the Tory whip if he voted against the tax cuts.
Asked on Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday show whether a rebellion would result in the drastic action, Mr Berry said: “Yes.”
He later told a recording of a Telegraph podcast there should “absolutely not” be a free vote allowing Conservatives to follow their consciences but said he was “sure colleagues will support the Government”.
Mr Gove doubled down on his criticism, telling the Telegraph podcast that it would be “very, very, very difficult” to argue it was right to impose real-term cuts on benefits while cutting tax for the highest earners.
But he invited Ms Truss to reverse her high-borrowing, tax-cutting plans to prevent a rebellion, which he insisted he was not orchestrating.
He told Ms Truss there was an “opportunity for a course correction and a reset”, adding: “I’ve never voted against the Conservative whip and I want therefore to make sure that we can have a civilised conversation about priorities.”
I understand how worried people are feeling and the difficult times we face.
— Liz Truss (@trussliz) October 2, 2022
Mr Green told a drinks reception for Tories towards the centre of the party that the conference was “more difficult” than many of those he had attended in the last 40 years.
Sparsely attended by fellow MPs, the former Cabinet minister told the room the Conservatives must represent helping people make the most of their lives regardless of their backgrounds.
“Apart from the fact I think it’s morally right, I also think it’s a political no-brainer that if we end up painting ourselves as the party of the rich and the party of the already successful then, funnily enough, most people won’t vote for us and we lose,” he said.
Mr Bowie said Mr Gove was “right” to say unfunded tax cuts were not Conservative, telling BBC Scotland: “I share Michael Gove’s concerns about where we are right now.”