Rishi Sunak has claimed Brexit is in the UK’s “long term” interests, even as the country continues to be battered by supply-chain chaos.
In his first speech to Conservative conference as chancellor, Sunak insisted that quitting the EU would give the British economy “flexibility” and “freedom”.
“I put my principles first and I always will,” the chancellor said in Manchester. “I was proud to back Brexit, proud to back Leave.
“And that’s because, despite the challenges, in the long term I believed the agility, flexibility and freedom provided by Brexit would be more valuable in a 21st century global economy than just proximity to a market.
“That in the long term,” he continued, “a renewed culture of enterprise, willingness to take risks and be imaginative would inspire changes in the way we do things at home.
“Brexit was never just about the things we couldn’t do. It was also about the things we didn’t do.”
Tax hikes coming?
Earlier on Monday, Sunak refused to rule out further tax hikes amid Tory party pressure about the UK’s already historically-high tax burden.
The chancellor used his speech to commit more than £500 million in fresh funding to help people back into work as he seeks to stem the continuing turbulence of the coronavirus pandemic.
Sunak claims to be shifting the focus on to getting people into new or better jobs as the government comes under sustained pressure over a major squeeze on living standards.
But the extra funding comes with Sunak and Boris Johnson under pressure from within Tory ranks about the historically high tax burden, after they raised national insurance contributions by 1.25 per cent.
The chancellor was asked repeatedly about whether he would approve further tax increases, including a hike to council tax to help fund social care after a warning from local authorities.
Sunak told Sky News he would not “pre-empt” the local government finance settlement later in the year and added to LBC he “never can comment about future tax policy”.
Asked about a possible increase to income tax before the next election, he told BBC Breakfast: “Recently we did make a significant announcement on tax and it was a difficult decision to make, especially for a Conservative chancellor and a Conservative prime minister.
“But we took that decision because we wanted to make sure the NHS got the significant funds it requires to help recover strongly from coronavirus.”
Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg has warned that taxation has hit “the limit”.
Universal Credit cut
Sunak was also forced to defend the decision to end the £20-a-week uplift to Universal Credit as families and workers face financial hardship, in a move some Tories have campaigned against.
And he conceded it is likely there will be shortages this Christmas, as the strains of coronavirus are compounded by a shortage of workers stemming from Brexit.
“We’re seeing supply disruption not just here but in lots of different places and there are things we can try and mitigate and we are,” the chancellor told Today.
“But we can’t wave a magic wand. There’s nothing I can do about the decision by a country in Asia to shut down a port because of a coronavirus outbreak.”