Former Cabinet Minister Dismisses Liz Truss Claim She Opposed Rishi Sunak’s Tax Rises
Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak are battling it out to be the next Tory party leader (Alamy)
A former Cabinet minister who until recently worked alongside Liz Truss has rejected the leadership frontrunner's claim that she has argued against raising taxes over the past two years.
During the campaign to replace Boris Johnson as prime minister, the Foreign Secretary has repeatedly insisted she was unhappy with the plans to hike National Insurance to help fund fixing the NHS backlog, which was introduced by her rival for the Tory leadership Rishi Sunak earlier this year.
But speaking to the PoliticsHome podcast The Rundown, former-Wales Secretary Simon Hart said the whole Cabinet “all reached the same conclusion, without the need for a vote or a show of hands” that National Insurance would need to increase.
A 1.25 per cent point tax rise, dubbed the health and social care levy, was introduced in April to help raise funds for the NHS. Critics of the policy called it un-Conservative.
Hart, who is backing Sunak in the leadership contest, insisted that Truss and Sunak had previously been more aligned on their views over the economy than they have appeared during the campaign so far.
“Both Rishi and Liz, myself, Boris Johnson, we've all sat around the same table last year, and you could not put a cigarette paper between us in terms of our economic policy,” he explained.
A spokesperson for the Truss campaign has accused Hart of “trying to rewrite history”. They argued that while the Foreign Secretary strongly opposed the NI increase when it was discussed by the Prime Minister’s senior team in September 2021, she “is loyal and believes in collective Cabinet responsibility so went along with the decision when it was made”.
Following the final stage of parliamentary voting on Wednesday, Sunak and Truss will face a postal ballot of Conservative Party members. The result will be announced on 5 September.
The campaign so far has been dominated by rival plans to cut taxes, but Sunak argued it would be irresponsible to do so now before inflation is brought under control. Truss, however, has pledged to reverse the National Insurance increase on day one, along with a host of other measures.
Hart said that it was wrong to frame the contest as the battle between one person in favour of a small state and lower taxes, and one who is not.
“I don't think it's a case that you've got one candidate who thinks it's a good idea and one who thinks it is a bad idea,” he said.
"I think you've got two who think it’s a good idea, they are both fundamentally conservative people. They've got slightly different ideas about how you actually get to that stage without triggering an even greater volatility around inflation.
“So that's the dividing line. It’s not it's not as clear cut I don't think as as some people have commented.”On Thursday Truss told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that she is challenging the economic "orthodoxy" that has prevailed for the past few decades.
The Foreign Secretary said she had argued against the National Insurance rise in Cabinet because it was a "mistake" both to break a manifesto commitment, after the Tories pledged ahead of the 2019 election that they would not "raise taxes in these very difficult economic times".
But Hart, who quit as the Secretary of State for Wales in Johnson's cabinet a fortnight ago, told The Rundown: “We were all in the same room at the same time having the same discussion, and we all reached the same conclusion without the need for a vote or a show of hands.
"And that is just a matter of record, that's not a matter of sort of spin.”
A spokesperson for Truss refuted Hart’s claim.“Liz spoke out against it in Cabinet in September 2021 when it was put to a decision," they told PoliticsHome.
“Her, Lord Frost and Jacob Rees-Mogg were the only ones who objected.”
They pointed to reporting at the time which said that according to sources, Truss, then still the International Trade Secretary, was part of a trio who “led the charge in raising concerns about the proposals”.
- For the full interview listen to the new episode of The Rundown, out Friday
PoliticsHome provides the most comprehensive coverage of UK politics anywhere on the web, offering high quality original reporting and analysis: Subscribe