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Rishi Sunak says public ‘not idiots’ and understands government cannot cut taxes now – UK

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Sunak says people understand why government cannot cut taxes now because they’re ‘not idiots’

The most significant moment in Rishi Sunak’s Q&A came when he said that people understand why the government cannot cut taxes now because “you’re not idiots”.

It was a throwaway remark, and it came in the course of an answer in which Sunak stressed his belief in low taxes, and his determination to cut taxes eventually, but it probably set alarm bells ringing in the No 10 media operation.

Why? Because this morning the Daily Mail splashed on a story that quoted approvingly Tory MPs who are saying Sunak should cut taxes. The Mail also has an editorial saying it is “dismaying that the chancellor is not considering tax cuts in March’s budget”.

Thursday's Mail: Cut Taxes Or Lose Election, Tories Warned #TomorrowsPapersToday #DailyMail #Mail pic.twitter.com/lPDyczQ1j9

— Tomorrows Papers Today (@TmorrowsPapers) January 18, 2023

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The Mail splash, and its editorial, were prompted by my colleague Pippa Crerar’s story yesterday saying that Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, is planning a slimmed down budget that will not contain tax cuts.

In its story, the Mail quotes Tory MPs alarmed by this news. It says:

Former leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said: ‘We have got to get growth going. This Government will sink without trace if we don’t get growth going by the middle of this year – we won’t have a hope of winning the election. We are already over-taxed and it is quite clear we cannot tax ourselves out of a recession.’

Fellow Tory Sir John Redwood also warned tax cuts were essential – and said some could even boost overall revenues by triggering growth. He added: ‘We cannot address the issue of growth without some tax cuts. They must be affordable, of course – but the best way to bring borrowing down and boost revenues is to grow the economy.’

The Mail also says that Sunak’s two predecessors as PM, Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, both want taxes cut.

In his Q&A, when asked about tax cuts, Sunak said:

When I was chancellor I also really preferred it when the prime minister didn’t comment on tax policy.

I’m a Conservative, I want to cut your taxes … I wish I could do that tomorrow, quite frankly, but the reason we can’t is because of all the reasons you know. You’re not idiots, you know what’s happened.

Sunak said the pandemic and the war in Ukraine had left the public finances “not where it needs to be”. He said that he wanted to get a “grip” on inflation, get interest rates down and make the economy stronger, so that the NHS and schools can be well funded. He went on:

Trust me, that’s what I’m going to do for you this year, that’s what we’re going to do while I’m prime minister and if we do those things we will be able to cut your taxes.

When Sunak used the word “idiots”, he almost certainly did not intend to refer to Tory colleagues like Iain Duncan Smith and John Redwood. But his comment could be linked to them quite easily, which makes it potentially perilous.

Rishi Sunak at his Q&A session at the Platform in Morecambe.
Rishi Sunak at his Q&A session at the Platform in Morecambe. Photograph: Owen Humphreys/AFP/Getty Images

Rishi Sunak has been criticised for taking a domestic flight in an RAF jet for the third time in 10 days, my colleague Kiran Stacey reports.

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Commenting on Sunak taking a flight to Blackpool today, Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, said:

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Rishi Sunak’s expensive private jet habit is costing the environment and the taxpayer dear.

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Instead of catching the train like the rest of us, he’s swanning around like a washed-up A-lister courtesy of the public, making a mockery of his own government’s ‘zero-jet’ strategy.

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During his Q&A earlier Sunak defended his decision to fly to Lancashire, instead of going by train. He said:

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I travel around so I can do lots of things in one day, I’m not travelling around just for my own enjoyment – although this is very enjoyable, of course.

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Trust me, I’m working as hard as I can to deliver for you and I travel to make myself as effective as possible.

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Keir Starmer has criticised Rishi Sunak for not attending the World Economic Forum event at Davos. Responding to a question at a panel event, Starmer said:

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Yes, I think our prime minister should have showed up at Davos.

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One of the things that’s been impressed on me since I’ve been here is the absence of the United Kingdom.

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That’s why it’s really important that I’m here and that our shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, is here – as a statement of intent that, should there be a change of government, and I hope there will be, the United Kingdom will play its part on the global stage in a way I think it probably hasn’t in recent years.

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