Rishi Sunak has warned households braced for rocketing autumn energy bills to expect no more help beyond a £150 VAT cut if he wins the race for No 10 – because there will be no time to act.
The former chancellor defended his plan to scrap VAT – a policy he previously attacked as ineffective – on the grounds there would be no other “levers” to pull before charges soar in October.
“There is no time to design something else that would be a more perfect way of helping people – you’ve got to work with what you’ve got,” he argued.
“VAT is a blunt instrument – I stick by what I said – but it provides support to everybody.
“And, if you’ve got four weeks after becoming prime minister to put in place a policy that will help 30 million households, this is pretty much the only lever left.”
The argument will fuel growing criticism of a “zombie” government, in the weeks before Boris Johnson leaves office on 6 September.
In the interview with Channel 4’s Andrew Neil, Mr Sunak was warned that removing VAT would only hand £150 to the average family – when bills are set to rise by £1,000.
“It barely touches the side – bills will still go up by £850,” he told Mr Sunak, who is thought to be trailing Liz Truss in the Tory leadership contest.
During the interview – a challenge his rival has ducked – Mr Sunak also:
Claimed his wife had no choice but to apply for her notorious non-dom status – when Mr Neil pointed out she applied for it – saying; “Her status is determined by law.”
- Argued “we all say silly things when we are students” – when asked about a clip, from 20 years ago, when he said he had no working-class friends.
- Denied it was “unsavoury” for the son of prosperous immigrants to plan to “turn away asylum seekers with a valid claim” – because his parents were “welcomed here legally”.
- Denied his plans to balance the books with big tax rises would trigger a recession – saying that was “not the forecast” of most economic bodies.
- Claimed his freezing of income tax thresholds, dragging millions into the higher tax band, was not “affecting people’s cash”.
Challenged on his plan to place a cap on the number of even legitimate refugees admitted to the UK, Mr Sunak said: “There is a finite amount of asylum seekers that we are able to integrate and accommodate. I think most reasonable people would agree with that.
And, defending his strict tax-and-spend stance, he argued that “around the world, it’s inflation that is slowing economies down”.
“I want to get to grips with inflation as quickly as possible because inflation makes everybody poorer. It erodes people’s living standards.”
Mr Neil repeated his challenge to Ms Truss to undergo a similar 30-minute grilling – but the foreign secretary is not expected to take up the offer.