Theresa May refuses to spell out Tory tax policy

Jon Stone
Theresa May campaigning in Dudley: Sky News

The Prime Minister has refused to explain her party’s tax policy, casting confusion over whether the Tories will keep their pledge not to raise income tax, VAT or national insurance.

Asked three times during a campaign appearance in the Black Country whether she would rule out tax rises, Theresa May would only talk of the Conservatives’ low-tax “instinct”.

The Prime Minister also dodged a question about whether her party would keep a so-called “triple lock” on pensions in place.

Her comments come after her Chancellor Philip Hammond said on a trip to the US that the 2015 policy not to raise the main taxes made it more difficult to manage the economy.

Asked on the campaign trail whether she would rule out tax rises, she said: “Let’s be very clear on the issue of taxation.

“At this election people are going to have a very clear choice: they will have a choice between a Conservative party which always has been, is, and will continue to be a party that believes in lower taxes, in keeping taxes down for ordinary working people … or the choice is a Labour party whose natural instinct is always to raise taxes.”

Asked again, she said: “What I’m saying is that when people come to vote they will have a choice between two parties: between the strong and stable leadership that will be in the national interest doing the right thing for Britain under the Conservatives or a weak and unstable coalition of chaos led by Jeremy Corbyn.

“A Conservative party who has always been and will continue to be a lower tax party or a Labour party whose natural instinct is always to raise taxes.”

Ms May stayed strictly on-message during her short address to voters in Dudley, repeating the words “strong and stable” 12 times during the speech and a further half-dozen times during an ensuing Q&A session.

The Government U-turned on its Budget proposal to raise national insurance on self-employed workers last month after critics pointed out that the policy broke the 2015 manifesto pledge.

David Cameron’s former director of strategic communications revealed in 2016 that the pledge was “cooked-up on the hoof” and suggested that it was “one of the dumbest economic policies anyone could make”.

As well as the tax lock, the Conservatives are also currently bound to meet strict deficit targets, and protect huge areas of public spending, including pensions, under the “triple lock” policy.

Taken together the Government has previously sought to balance the books by making sharp welfare cuts but has struggled to get ones that save significant amounts of money through Parliament. David Cameron was forced into a retreat on cuts to tax credits and disability benefits.