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Boris Johnson has refused to rule out further tax rises, as the Conservative Party conference in Manchester got underway.
In an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday morning, the prime minister would only say he did not “want” to do so.
“You have no fiercer and more zealous opponent of unnecessary tax rises than me,” he said. “If I can possibly avoid it, I do not want to raise taxes again.”
He added: “But we have had to deal with a pandemic on a scale which this country has not seen before in our lifetimes and long before.
“We have had to look after the British people with £407bn of protection for their jobs, for people’s livelihoods,” he said. “It was most beneficial to the poorest and the neediest in society.”
Johnson triggered a backlash from some Tory MPs when he decided to raise national insurance to fund an extra £12bn for the NHS and social care.
Cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the Commons, told The Daily Telegraph on Friday the UK was already taxed “as highly as the country can afford”.
Ahead of his party’s conference, Johnson said he was ready to take “big, bold decisions” to rebuild the country after Covid.
The PM arrived for the start of the annual gathering, and was photographed going for a job in a shirt, buoyed up by opinion polls showing the Conservatives ahead of Labour.
“We didn’t go through Covid to go back to how things were before – to the status quo ante,” he said. “Build back better means we want things to change and improve as we recover.”
But behind the optimism, Conservative MPs heading to the city are aware of a number of storm clouds gathering.
While the fuel crisis appears to be easing in much of the country, petrol retailers have warned that the situation is getting worse in London and the South East.
With long queues at many filling stations, military drivers will take to the roads on Monday in an effort to support the delivery of supplies to forecourts.
There are fears that the shortage of HGV drivers which triggered the crisis could lead to empty shelves in shops in the run up to Christmas.
Some Tories also fear the government is facing a “cost of living crisis” with many households struggling to make ends meet over the winter, threatening the government’s all important “levelling up” agenda.
It follows the ending of the £20-a-week Universal Credit uplift and the furlough scheme and the raising of the energy price cap at a time when many prices in the shops are going up.
Writing in The Sun, Labour leader Keir Starmer blamed Johnson for the “chaos” accusing the prime minister of ignoring repeated warnings from the industry.
“Boris Johnson was warned about this crisis and he did nothing about it. Britain deserves better than this incompetence and total lack of leadership,” he said.
It came as Oliver Dowden, the chairman of the Conservative Party, refused to rule out an early general election in 2023.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.