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Boris Johnson has told his ministers to “go faster” in delivering ideas to alleviate the cost-of-living crisis but was resisting growing pressure to hold an emergency budget.
The Prime Minister urged Cabinet ministers to be “as creative as possible” as he seeks initiatives to reduce the pain without requiring fresh funding from the Treasury.
Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove ruled out an emergency budget, which was receiving support from some Conservative backbenchers as well as Labour.
He insisted that claims of a split between Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Mr Johnson over the need for more financial support were “overinflated”.
Former Brexit secretary David Davis called for ministers to swallow their pride and initiate tax cuts before the summer at the latest.
The Conservative MP told the PA news agency: “Ideally I want to see a reversal of the national insurance increase and an elimination of VAT on fuel because people are already suffering from a £600-£700 increase in fuel costs, they’re already suffering from increasing food costs and other inflation and so, from a point of view of the ordinary family, it’s vital we do something very soon.”
Asked how quickly it should be enacted, he said: “As soon as we can, certainly before the summer.”
“I don’t care whether you call it an emergency budget – however you do it, the title is irrelevant.
“The amour propre (vanity) of the Government or the ministers is secondary to the people and we should do it now.”
Under fire for failing to use the Queen’s Speech to announce fresh help, Mr Johnson suggested on Tuesday he and the Chancellor would announce more “in the days to come”.
But the Treasury quickly shot down Mr Johnson’s suggestion of further “fiscal firepower”.
On Wednesday, Mr Johnson vowed to deploy the “maximum energy effort” on the crisis, as he promised more support “in the months ahead”.
But further non-fiscal measures were expected to come much sooner than months.
In a press conference in Finland, the Prime Minister said: “We will have the maximum energy effort, ingenuity, to help the British people through them and everybody knows how tough it can be right now.
“And you know all the money we’re already spending, there will be more of course, there will be more support in the months ahead as things continue to be tough with the increase in the energy prices.”
Mr Johnson was careful not to explicitly rule out more significant support sooner, but earlier in the day Mr Gove bluntly told Sky News “there won’t be an emergency budget”.
“We will be saying more and doing more in order to help people with the cost-of-living challenge we face at the moment, but that doesn’t amount to an emergency budget. It is part of the work of government,” Mr Gove said.
“Last night the Prime Minister convened a group of ministers – we have all done work on some of the things we could do to help. Those policy initiatives will be announced by individual departments in due course as they are worked up.”
On Tuesday, the Prime Minister chaired a meeting of the domestic and economic strategy committee with senior ministers, including Mr Sunak.
Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said: “The Prime Minister urged ministers to go faster and be as creative as possible in ensuring the Government is doing everything on this important issue.”
No 10 said the Chancellor had already set out “substantial support” in the form of “fiscal measures”, but the work now is looking for other ideas.
The spokesman added: “In the days to come you will hear more from the Prime Minister on this. The Chancellor and the Prime Minister are working extremely closely on this and will continue to do so.”
But he said there are “no plans” for an emergency budget.
Households face soaring energy bills, inflation is forecast to hit 10% and welfare payments and wages are falling far behind the increase in prices.
Tory MP Lee Anderson has faced calls to apologise for claiming people in the UK use food banks because they “cannot cook properly” and “cannot budget”.
What is he doing!? Making jokes and using silly voices while families across the country are struggling to survive.
This isn’t a game (or an Oxford Union debate!). People are having to choose between heating and eating.
Take it seriously. Do your job 🙄pic.twitter.com/6Qd5TLdXl4
— Lisa Nandy (@lisanandy) May 11, 2022
And Mr Gove faced criticism for dismissing the prospects of an “emergency budget” with an impression of an American newsreader, before mimicking the Treasury, saying “Calm down” in a mock-Scouse accent.
Lisa Nandy, his Labour shadow, tweeted: “What is he doing!? Making jokes and using silly voices while families across the country are struggling to survive.
“This isn’t a game (or an Oxford Union debate!). People are having to choose between heating and eating.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called the Government’s response “pathetic” as he was joined by charities and economic experts in criticising Mr Johnson’s plans.
The Child Poverty Action Group said there was “no short-term comfort for parents struggling to feed their kids in the face of rocketing prices”.