Philip Hammond delivered his first – and last – Autumn Statement yesterday. The new Chancellor will move the main Budget to the Autumn now and give a Spring Statement in its place, effectively flipping the biannual fiscal events. “Never let it be said that this Government lacks ideas,” Michael Deacon said.
His key announcements can be summarised as follows:
- A £6 billion “stealth tax” raid by hiking the insurance premiums for motorists and homeowners and axing tax breaks on perks enjoyed by millions of workers.
- Billions of pounds will be spent on new roads, rail and housing, to help Britain shake off its “shocking” reputation as the sick man of Europe.
- Fuel duty was frozen for the seventh year in a row, saving motorists £130 a year.
- The pensions “triple lock” could be scrapped after the next general election due to rising life expectancy rates.
- More than two million people will next year able to invest in a new government-backed savings bond with “market-leading” interest rates of 2.2 per cent
So how has Chancellor Hammond’s debut been received in today’s papers? The Times praised his “courage to be boring”, while the Sun finds that was pretty much his problem. “Where was this Government’s new policy to help the just about managing?” it asked, blasting the “thin gruel from Phil the Bleak”. “Mr Hammond was alert to the importance of sending out a positive message – of a “Britain open for business” and able to control its own destiny,” we say in our leader. “Unfortunately, the picture is no clearer.” The Guardian thought his bid to suggest Britain could be “match-fit” for Brexit was “not pretty”. The Mirror insisted it was a “house of horrors”, citing the latest estimate from the Office for Budget Responsibility that that Brexit would cost the country almost £60 billion in lost economic growth as a “damning verdict on defeatist austerity”. The Mail struck a sunnier tone, delighting in the fact that an “upbeat Chancellor” was able to predict growth for the next five years. “So much for Mr Gloomy!” Meanwhile the Express found “little to raise alarm” in the Autumn Statement given the “financial apocalypse his predecessor had forecast”.
However Eurosceptic ministers are upset about the latest figures from the Government’s official forecaster, we report, with one saying they were “not worth the paper it is written on”. Another minister said: “We were told we would be in a recession after Brexit. We are not. These predictions are worthless.” Hammond – cabinet sources say – had taken the OBR forecasts with a “pinch of salt”. The IFS has been casting their eye over the figures overnight and will reveal the results of its work this afternoon. Perhaps the picture will become clearer then.
Phillip Hammond will tell a conference that money needs to be spent on defences that “cannot be seen on the parade ground.”
Dependence on electronic networks “creates vulnerability” he will say, adding that the response cannot be based on “infantry, or jet planes or destroyers.”
There is an increasing possibility that a rogue state could use an “E-bomb” that would release a devastating electromagnetic pulse (EMP), experts will tell a two-day conference in London.
In the worst case scenario, a nuclear missile could be fired in to space that would release a pulse large enough to paralyse Britain’s infrastructure.
“One of the challenges we face, particularly at a time of limited resources, is to make the case for spending on defence and security solutions that cannot readily be seen by the public – that cannot be shown off on the parade ground – that could be digital, not necessarily physical,” Mr Hammond is expected to say.
Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, refused to back new legislation to allow gay marriage as ministerial differences over the issue became public.
The Government is currently consulting on the plans and people have until next month to officially comment on the introduction of gay marriage. David Cameron has publicly offered it strong backing.
However, Mr Hammond said: “Clearly it’s not the number one priority. If you stop people in the street and ask them what their concerns are, they’ll talk to you about jobs and economic growth, they’ll talk to you about the level of the wages they’re earning, wanting to see real growth in wages again.”
He added: “There is no legislation in the Queen’s Speech [on gay marriage]; there’s a consultation going on, and we should look at, listen to what people are saying in response to that consultation.
“But I think the government has got to show over the next couple of years that it is focused on the things that matter to the people in this country – not just the short-term things but the long-term things as well; the reform of our education system, changing the welfare system – which is like turning around a super-tanker – changing the welfare system so that work always pays,%
Responding to calls from the Defence Secretary for an apology over the controversial spot, Héctor Timerman said: “Mr Hammond should know that the world is safer when we use our creativity, rather than bomb civilians in sovereign countries.”
The advert shows Fernando Zylberberg, an Argentine hockey player, preparing in Stanley for the upcoming Olympics, before presenting the viewer with the slogan “To compete on English soil, we train on Argentine soil.”
Despite a request from WPP – the British agency of which Young & Rubicam, who created the spot, is a subsidiary – to pull the advert, the Argentine government will continue to broadcast it.
Mr Timerman, who took Argentina’s sovereignty claim to the Falklands to the UN and has criticised Britain’s “militarisation” of the South Atlantic, said Mr Hammond is an “adversary of whom to be fearful”.
He said: “I imagine that, since he assumed his role as Defence Secretary, Mr Hammond has been so busy controlling the many British soldiers at war that he has not had time to read Margaret Atwood, born in one of his former colonies, who in 1993 wrote: ‘War is what happens when language fails’.