Tom Watson calls on Matt Hancock to quit Cabinet if Boris Johnson scraps 'sugar tax'
Labour has said Health Secretary Matt Hancock must quit the Cabinet if Boris Johnson becomes Prime Minister and scraps the sugar tax.
Tom Watson, the party's deputy leader, hit out after Mr Johnson pledged to launch a review of so-called “sin taxes” if he makes it to Number 10.
That has risked a rift with Mr Hancock, who is backing Mr Johnson's leadership bid, but has championed the soft drink levy in his current role,even suggesting extending it further to cover milkshakes as well.
Mr Watson, who has lost more than seven stones after cutting out sugar from his diet, accused the former Foreign Secretary of “pandering to the regressive right” and siding “with big sugar over ordinary families”.
And he said Mr Johnson had performed “an acute flip-flop” on the issue, having brought in a sugar tax when he was Mayor of London.
In a letter to Mr Hancock, Mr Watson said: “For a Prime Minister of a nation in the grip of an obesity crisis to scrap the sugar tax would not just be gravely irresponsible, it would be negligent.
“It would be a gift to companies like Coca Cola and Nestle and a terrible blow the children and adults who are overweight or obese, who them the Government has a responsibility to support, and our National Health Service which treats them.”
He said it is Mr Hancock’s “duty” to stop the levy being scraped, adding: "So can I ask – for the sake of the nation’s health- will you make maintaining the sugar tax a condition of serving in a Boris Johnson cabinet?"
Mr Watson added: "Obesity campaigners respect your record as Health Secretary and believe you are genuinely committed to the cause of getting our nation healthier.
"Scrapping the sugar tax, letting Coca Cola off the hook and watching sugar seep back into children’s drinks would be the worst way to undermine all of that progress."
Mr Hancock, who praised the tax in a January speech for removing 90million kg of sugar from drinks since it was introduced, refused to criticise Mr Johnson when asked about the issue.
Speaking after he made a speech on the future of the economy, Mr Hancock did not say that the former Mayor of London was wrong to look again at a sugar tax.
He said: “I do think we need to base these decisions on the evidence, so I welcome the proposition by Boris that we have an evidence-based review into the soft drinks levy, and into future levies in this area.
“And to make sure that when we're tackling issues like obesity, which must be tackled both by increased activity and by the other levers that are available to Government, that those decisions are based on evidence.
“So I welcome an evidence-based review and I look forward to the results.”
Mr Hancock is said to be one of the leading members of Mr Johnson’s presidential-style team to ease his transition into Number 10 if he defeats Jeremy Hunt in the race to replace Theresa May.
And he is thought to be in the running to become Chancellor in a Johnson administration after being knocked out of the Tory leadership contest in the first phase.
But the row over sin taxes is the second such split between the men in a week, after Mr Johnson rowed back on Mr Hancock’s suggestion he would increase public sector pay once he enters Downing Street.