More than a dozen new Tory MPs from “red wall” constituencies have warned the chancellor against “clobbering” blue-collar communities by putting up fuel duty at the budget.
The 14 MPs, including Dehenna Davison in Bishop Auckland, Lee Anderson in Ashfield and Peter Gibson in Darlington, expressed their concerns about reports that the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, was considering scrapping the fuel duty freeze.
They argued it would harm people who trusted Boris Johnson for the first time with their votes at the election – those in the “red wall” – and undermine his claims to be running a “people’s government”.
“If the decision was taken to raise taxes on fuel, hard-working people and businesses in blue-collar communities – many of which lent us their support at the general election for the first time in generations – will suffer,” they said. “Clobbering these communities with a tax rise in our first budget would send the wrong message about this government’s priorities. Working families across the country are already facing the pressures of high living costs and most do not have the financial capacity to absorb this extra burden.”
The MPs were joined in their campaign by several more established colleagues including Rob Halfon, who led successive campaigns against increasing fuel duty that persuaded the former chancellor George Osborne to freeze the tax.
The Treasury has been considering a hike in fuel duty both to raise revenue and to bolster the government’s green credentials in a year that the UK is hosting the Cop26 summit about the climate.
However, the move would be unpopular with many Tory MPs who are concerned it could add to the cost of living by increasing the price of filling up and adding to inflation across the economy.
The MPs warned: “Many towns and villages across the country – particularly in rural areas — severely lack the necessary local transport infrastructure to accommodate this change to the market. Hard-working people in these areas rely on their vehicles to get on in their everyday lives and to provide for their families. The Conservative party should be supporting these people, not setting them back.
“Further, one of the largest categories for employment for working-class individuals in constituencies like ours is that of ‘driver’. Any decision to scrap the fuel duty freeze must be seen for what it is: a tax rise which would hit our blue-collar communities hardest. Increasing fuel duty would show these communities that this people’s government does not actually have, at its heart, the priorities of the people.”
The budget will be a test of the government’s own priorities just three months after Johnson won an 80-seat majority on the back of new votes across swaths of the north, Midlands and Wales.
He promised no rise in VAT, income tax or national insurance but the Treasury has been considering other tax rises to help pay for increased spending on his agenda of “levelling up” across Britain.
The government’s other options include loosening the fiscal rules on balancing day-to-day spending set by the former chancellor Sajid Javid at the election, or returning to austerity.
Johnson has signalled the age of austerity is over but Sunak and his chief secretary, Steve Barclay, outlined plans at cabinet on Tuesday to cut down on “wasteful spending” by departments.