Good morning. A week today we’ll be digesting the contents of the budget, which Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, will deliver on Wednesday 3 March. And this morning there is an unwelcome intervention from his predecessor-but-one, Philip Hammond (now Lord Hammond), who has told the BBC the government should now ditch some of its “extravagant” spending promises made during the general election.
In an interview with Laura Kuenssberg, Hammond said that ministers had “made very extravagant commitments to the British electorate in good faith before the coronavirus crisis”. He went on:
Not all of those commitments can now sensibly be delivered on and that’s going to be a big challenge for a government that regards its short-term popularity as very, very important.
Hammond, who had the Tory whip removed by Boris Johnson in 2019 after he joined a rebellion over Brexit (although Johnson subsequently sent him to the Lords as a Conservative peer), said the government needed to tell the public “some difficult home truths”. Government borrowing this year is now estimated to be £340bn higher than it would have been without Covid.
Hammond said he was confident that Sunak’s instincts were “the right ones” (ie, that Sunak wanted to take a responsible approach to spending, in Hammond’s view). But he said Sunak was part of a government and he said not sure “the top leadership of the current government” (ie, Johnson) “really has that appetite for being unpopular, in order to do the right thing”. He said:
My fear is that, as a populist government, giving money away is always easier than collecting it in.
And the government will be tempted not to move quickly back to normalising the relationship between government and citizen, the balance between taxing and spending, as we move out of the crisis and into the next phase, which is dealing over the longer term with the legacy of this Covid crisis – what the economists called the scarring effect on the British economy.
Here is the agenda for the day.
9.30am: The Home Office publishes annual immigration figures, as well as figures for the EU settlement scheme.
9.30am: The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government publishes annual figures on rough sleeping.
11am: NHS Test and Trace publishes its weekly performance figures.
Around 11.30am: Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, makes a statement to MPs about his plans to allow teachers to decide exam grades in England this summer.
12pm: Downing Street is expected to hold its daily lobby briefing.
12.30pm: Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, takes questions in the Scottish parliament.
2pm: Public Health England publishes its weekly Covid surveillance report.
4pm: Anneliese Dodds, the shadow chancellor, gives a speech on the economy.
Politics Live is now doubling up as the UK coronavirus live blog and, given the way the Covid crisis eclipses everything, this will continue for the foreseeable future. But we will be covering non-Covid political stories too, and when they seem more important or more interesting, they will take precedence.
Here is our global coronavirus live blog.
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