Kwasi Kwarteng to keep expert OBR Budget verdict secret for nearly two months

An expert watchdog’s verdict on the tax-slashing mini-Budget will be kept secret for nearly two months after the chancellor refused to publish it.

Kwasi Kwarteng is defying calls, including from Conservative MPs, to reassure markets by revealing the official forecast of how his dash for growth will affect the economy.

After an unprecedented emergency Downing Street meeting on Friday, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) said its initial findings would be on the chancellor’s desk within a week.

But the Treasury quickly made clear nothing would be published until Mr Kwarteng delivers a new economic statement on 23 November, despite protests that seven weeks is too long to wait.

Mr Kwarteng, writing in The Daily Telegraph on Saturday, said that his November statement would contain a “commitment to spending discipline”.

He also promised that the November update “will set out a credible plan to get debt falling as a share of GDP in the medium term.”

“Not all the measures we announced last week will be universally popular. But we had to do something different. We had no other choice,” he wrote.

Kwasi Kwarteng said his November statement will include a ‘commitment to spending discipline’ (PA)
Kwasi Kwarteng said his November statement will include a ‘commitment to spending discipline’ (PA)

The stance is in defiance of a call from the Conservative head of the Commons Treasury committee, Mel Stride, for a “reset moment” that would see the OBR forecast released in October.

As anger grows on the Tory benches, one MP said his party has already lost the next general election, while a second warned “time is running out” to show the Conservatives deserve to stay in power.

Liz Truss refused to say why the country is “having to wait” for the forecast, or to accept the Bank of England’s warning that the government had largely triggered the financial crisis.

Fresh polls piled on the agony for the Conservatives – ahead of their conference on Sunday – one putting Labour 32 points ahead and a second finding more than half of Britons believe the prime minister should resign.

Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat leader, was among critics of the chancellor’s stance, warning the crisis-hit economy would still be “flying blind” for two months.

“Delaying this forecast means shutting the door long after the horse has bolted. Families and businesses can’t afford to wait any longer for this government to fix their botched, unfair Budget,” he said.

Angela Eagle, a Labour member of the Treasury committee, questioned why the forecast “isn’t published so the rest of us can see it”.

Speaking to broadcasters in Kent, the prime minister stuck to the claim it was not possible to have an OBR forecast in time for last Friday’s budget – despite the watchdog insisting it had been.

“We are committed to the OBR forecast, we are working together with the OBR. There will be an event on 23 November where the policies are fully analysed by the OBR,” she said.

Huw Pill, the Bank’s chief economist, in a speech late on Thursday, made clear there was “undoubtedly a UK-specific component” to the turmoil that forced it to unleash a £65bn rescue plan.

But Ms Truss, asked to accept it was “largely a crisis of your own making”, ducked the accusation, saying it was vital to take “urgent steps to deal with the costs that families are facing this winter”.

She also raised further fears that the pledge to uprate benefits in line with inflation next year will be broken, saying: “That is something the work and pensions secretary is looking at.”

Chair of the Office For Budget Responsibility, Richard Hughes, Member of the Budget Responsibility Committee, Andy King and Prof. David Miles CBE, Member of the Budget Responsibility Committee arrive on Downing Street for a meeting with Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng (Getty Images)
Chair of the Office For Budget Responsibility, Richard Hughes, Member of the Budget Responsibility Committee, Andy King and Prof. David Miles CBE, Member of the Budget Responsibility Committee arrive on Downing Street for a meeting with Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng (Getty Images)

Ahead of the Downing Street meeting, Mr Stride said it was “clear” from correspondence with the OBR that it could provide a full forecast “by the end of October”.

“This must now be the ‘reset moment’ – to urgently bring forward the OBR forecast with credible new fiscal rules and a plan which the OBR assesses as deliverable. That will start to address market confidence,” he said.

After the meeting, the OBR said: “We will deliver the first iteration of that forecast to the chancellor on Friday 7 October,” but the Treasury said nothing would be made public until 23 November.

The Tory MP Peter Aldous demanded a focus on “sound money”, adding: “Nothing about the chancellor’s opening weeks at the Treasury have reassured me – nor, more importantly, the markets – in this regard.”

The “dash to rush through fiscal policy measures without an accompanying OBR report” seemed almost “designed to provoke the markets at a time when they were already demonstrably volatile”, he said.

A second, Robert Largan, said of the threat of real-terms benefits cuts: “This is untenable. You cannot freeze benefits and pensions while cutting taxes for millionaires.”

And, in extraordinary comments, Charles Walker said of the coming election: “I suspect the conversation is, you know, ‘how much do we lose it by’?”

He told Times Radio: “Our duty to the country is to get the public finances in the best shape possible,” adding: “The lack of humility is what I find most painful. You know, we have really got this wrong on many levels.”