Jeremy Hunt: Liz Truss economic plans were ‘good thing to aim for’

Jeremy Hunt said Liz Truss’s economic ambitions were a “good thing to aim for” and her disastrous mini-budget hadn’t left an impact on the economy, according to two leaked recordings obtained by the Guardian.

The chancellor was recorded at a meeting of students when he said he was “trying to basically achieve some of the same things” as the former prime minister, but that he was doing it “more gradually”.

In a sign of desperation the chancellor, who is fighting to hold on to his Surrey seat, separately told a local hustings event: “I speak tonight as Jeremy Hunt”, adding: “I’m not always going to take the government line.”

Hunt praised Truss for “accepting the mistakes she’d made with good grace” and repeatedly refused to accept her plans had left a long-term impact on the economy. When pressed on whether he thought the country was currently battling negative effects, he said: “No I don’t think it’s had an effect. I don’t think it’s the main cause.”

Labour said the remarks showed that the Conservatives had an “addiction to dangerous Trussonomics”.

Hunt took over as chancellor after Truss sacked Kwasi Kwarteng in an attempt to save her premiership following the mini-budget, which proposed a £45bn package of tax cuts including a cut to the top rate of income tax.

He reversed a number of the key measures in the budget in order to stabilise the markets, leading to him being described as the country’s de facto prime minister, and Truss was forced out 10 days later on 20 October 2022.

His refusal to acknowledge the impact Truss’s mini-budget made is in stark contrast to comments from Rishi Sunak. The prime minister has said that “two years ago I wasn’t afraid to repeatedly warn about what her economic policies would lead to”.

The Conservative manifesto offers another 2p off national insurance contributions (NICs), a gradual phasing out of self-employed NICs, a cut to stamp duty, higher thresholds for child benefit and a tax break for pensioners.

Darren Jones, the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, said: “The Tories can pretend otherwise but this is who they are. When the door is closed and the cameras are off it all comes out – the same addiction to dangerous Trussonomics.

“Liz Truss’s disastrous mini-budget and unfunded tax cuts unleashed misery on millions by sending mortgage rates soaring. Now the chancellor admits he is trying to implement these policies by stealth, without the British public realising.”

Speaking at a meeting of the Oxford University Conservatives on 9 May, Hunt was asked about his own pledges on low tax made in his leadership campaign and Truss’s claims to have been blocked by the civil service and other economic institutions, and whether he faced “the same kind of opposition”.

In a recording of the exchange, Hunt can be heard to say, to some laughter, that Truss “appointed me as chancellor … you know, I want to be respectful of that fact. But I think the issue with most of the policies wasn’t that they weren’t a good thing to aim for”.

He said Truss “didn’t explain in that mini-budget how she was to fund [her tax cuts]. And so markets thought that we were just basically going to fund all these tax cuts by massively increasing borrowing. And they took fright.”

The chancellor said he hoped to “basically achieve some of the same things that she wanted to achieve. But I’m doing it more gradually because I’m demonstrating at every stage that this is consistent with keeping borrowing under control. So, it’s taking longer to get there, but I think it’s obviously in a way we can actually deliver it.”

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The recordings emerged as the chancellor came under fire for comments in a newsletter to constituents in which he wrote that tax cuts in the Conservative manifesto would be funded by savings from “an enormous back-to-work programme (which I announced in the autumn statement last year)”.

Labour said it showed the Conservatives were double-counting welfare cuts in order to fund tax cuts.

The party intends to use this week’s campaigning to put the spotlight on the Conservatives’ economic record. During a visit to Southampton on Monday, Keir Starmer accused Hunt of making “completely unfunded” promises.

He said: “What has emerged this morning is truly extraordinary because what you’ve got is no less than the chancellor admitting that the money that they were pretending was available in their manifesto for their desperate policies is in fact money that’s already been accounted for.

“So that means you’ve got a manifesto from the Tories which isn’t worth the paper on which it is written because it is completely unfunded. It is extraordinary – the fact that it has come from the chancellor I think makes it even more extraordinary. The money isn’t there, that’s the major problem.”

The Conservatives said the savings they intended to use to fund tax cuts would come from new policies. “The measures to achieve £12bn in welfare savings had not been announced at the time of the last OBR forecast so the entire premise of his [Starmer’s] latest press conference is redundant,” a spokesperson said.

Hunt, whose Godalming and Ash constituency is a target seat for the Liberal Democrats, also seemed to suggest at the hustings that HS2 shouldn’t have been cancelled.

Responding to a local Tory member who said scrapping HS2 “sends out the wrong signal”, Hunt said: “I think when parliament has decided democratically we’re going to do these things and we pass an act of parliament we need to find a way of making them happen.”

 

Updated: Juni 18, 2024 — 4:00 am

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