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Rishi Sunak says ‘tough choices ahead’ for UK economy and won’t deny tax rises needed to repair coronavirus damage

Rishi Sunak spoke to the Treasury Select Committee after appearing in public wearing a mask (Twitter)

3 min read

Rishi Sunak refused to deny he would have to raise taxes to help the economy deal with the impact of coronavirus as he signalled there will be “tough choices ahead”.

Speaking during a Treasury Committee grilling in the Commons on Wednesday, the Chancellor refused to be drawn on how he would look to balance the books after committing hundreds of billions of pounds of extra spending during the pandemic.

He said: "I say this clearly to any journalist I speak to, any colleague, I'm going to give the same answer which is I'm just not going to comment on future fiscal policy and people should not then infer, 'Ah, you didn't rule this out or you do rule this in'."

But he said the Conservatives' manifesto vow not to raise major taxes remained an "ambition".

The Chancellor told MPs: "We, of course, look at everything all the time - that's what we do.

"In terms of what does that mean for spending and taxes, those are decisions that will have to wait until we get to Budgets.

"But there are tough choices ahead, that is clear.

He added: "We have an ambition to deliver upon our priorities and the promises we made, we've been through hopefully this once-in-a-lifetime episode, it has had an enormous impact on our economy, on jobs, our public finances and that means there are tough choices to come.

"It is difficult for us to go into more detail than that."

TAX 'AMBITION'

Mr Sunak was asked by the chair Mel Stride if he agreed Boris Johnson, who told another Commons committee he would stick to the Conservative manifesto commitment not to put up income tax, national insurance or VAT.

"Our ambition is to deliver on all the priorities that we set out but on any questions on future tax policy I can't comment one way or another," he said.

“Those decisions are made as always in future budgets.”

The Chancellor also defended the controversial jobs retention bonus he announced at last week’s summer fiscal statement, which pays firms £1,000 for every member of staff they bring back from furlough.

After the head of HMRC formally questioned whether the policy represented value for money, Mr Sunak was forced to issue a ministerial direction ordering the scheme to go ahead.

Labour has also accused the Government of poorly targeting the money, after Mr Sunak admitted there would be "dead weight" with some firms claiming cash they do not need.

He told the committee: “I firmly believe that it will and can make a difference.

"I think the way it is designed, particularly for those who are lower paid, it will serve as a significant incentive and reward to those especially small and medium-sized companies to protect employment."

And Mr Sunak added: "We have the prospect of many people losing their jobs. I am determined to do what I can to protect as many of those jobs as possible and this I believe will help do that."

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