MP Says It Feels Like "Groundhog Day" Pushing The Government To Act On Fuel Costs
Tory MP Robert Halfon has said he had hoped to “retire” from campaigning on cutting fuel costs but finds himself once again leading calls for the Chancellor to cut fuel duty in the Spring Statement this week.
Rishi Sunak hinted on Sunday that he was considering the cut, telling Sky News that he “understands” the challenges facing constituents as the cost of fuel soars across the country.
His comments came after 53 Tory MPs cosigned a letter, organised by Halfon, urging the Prime Minister to “support working people” by cutting fuel duty.
Halfon told PoliticsHome that cutting the levy had “massive support” from across the Conservative Party, and he believed he could have got the support from as many as “80 or 90” MPs if he’d had more time to collect signatures.
“There’s loads of support across the party, because it's not just me going on about it,” Halfon told PoliticsHome.
“It's Groundhog Day for me because I thought I could retire from this fuel duty business. It's been relentless."
The Harlow MP has consistently campaigned on fuel poverty since he was elected in 2010, and has been a leading voice in calls for Chancellors at successive Budgets to continue the freeze on fuel duty, which has remained at 58p a litre since 2011.
Halfon said he hoped the government would announce a “pretty substantial” 5p cut to fuel duty on Wednesday, but conceded that “every little helps” when it comes to mitigating the rising cost of living.
“We have to be the cost of living party. The single most important domestic thing is cutting the cost of living.
“That's different from the past, because my feeling is that there is real fear. People are terrified, genuinely terrified about being able to afford and pay the bills.”
Matt Vickers, Tory MP for Stockton South, who was a signatory of Halfon’s letter, said that cutting fuel duty wouldn’t be a “silver bullet”, but added that “it would help motorists across the country to keep moving”.
“For people trying to get to work each day, or for businesses which rely on cars and vans to go about their work, the cost of fuel is becoming too high,” he told PoliticsHome.
Another 2019 MP, who also signed the letter, argued that cutting fuel duty could be used to offset the increased income from VAT.
“The way it's set up at the moment is that with VAT, when the price goes up we're actually getting more tax,” he said.
“I think it's perfectly reasonable that we take a bit off of duty to compensate for that.
“I don't know whether cutting fuel duty is going to be a temporary manoeuvre. Personally, I'd get rid of the VAT altogether and change the duty rate to make it work out, but I don’t think they will do that.”
Vickers also criticised the claim by Labour’s Rachel Reeves that cutting fuel duty doesn’t “rise to the scale of the challenge that we face at the moment”.
The shadow chancellor instead called for a windfall tax on the profits of North Sea oil and gas companies, as well as removing VAT on domestic energy bills.
“Labour's plan to introduce sudden taxes on companies is economically illiterate and will put hundreds of thousands of jobs that rely on the oil and gas industry at risk, discourage much needed investment in our pursuit for energy security and may even end up reducing tax revenues,” Vickers said.
Halfon also criticised Labour for failing to directly address the rising cost of petrol and diesel.
“[Reeves] just said she wouldn't vote against [cutting fuel duty], but they have voted against every single fuel duty freeze that we've had,” he said.
“She hasn't got any suggestions for it. She hasn't said what they would do about petrol and diesel.”
PoliticsHome provides the most comprehensive coverage of UK politics anywhere on the web, offering high quality original reporting and analysis: Subscribe