Theresa May: Budget is not paving the way for a general election

Chancellor Philip Hammond’s yearly snapshot of the nation’s finances – which contained tax cuts and spending hikes and was the biggest giveaway budget since 2010 – has sparked speculation another poll could be on the horizon.

But the prime minister rejected such talk, saying: “We are not preparing for another general election.

“That would not be in the national interest.”

In the early months of 2017, Downing Street consistently rejected suggestions Mrs May was considering calling a snap election.

Then in April that year the PM did exactly that, with the Conservatives losing their parliamentary majority in the June election and remaining in office as a minority government.

Most would expect Mrs May to have been chastened by that experience, but Mr Hammond’s budget on Monday has led some to speculate about the prospect of another poll as Britain prepares for life outside the European Union.

Mr Hammond has also played down the prospect.

He told Sky News: “I’ve heard some commentators making this observation, but that’s not how I’ve approached the budget.

“I’ve approached this budget in terms of delivering to the British people a clear view of the better times that are ahead as our economy and public finances turn the corner.”

Amid pressure to back up Mrs May’s recent pledge that the end of austerity is in sight, the chancellor announced a £100bn loosening of the purse strings on Monday.

This included income tax breaks for 32 million voters, help with business rates for the high street, more money for the government’s controversial Universal Credit programme and a pledge to increase public spending in the years to come.

Mr Hammond told Sky News he was able to turn the spending taps on because the public finances are “in a much better shape than they’ve been for many years”.

He added: “That means that we are able to spend a little more on our public services, we are able to invest a bit more in Britain’s future and we are able to cut taxes and freeze duties and make life a little easier for ordinary working families.

“That’s what I wanted to do to show the British people – that their hard work has paid off and that we are turning a corner here.”

The chancellor also said the measures announced in his budget will go ahead regardless of what happens with Brexit.

But the Institute for Fiscal Studies has warned Mr Hammond has taken a “gamble” with the public finances that could see higher borrowing and debt in the future.

Labour’s John McDonnell said the budget could signal an election was in the offing.

He told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “The Tories usually do this.

“If a general election is coming, what they’ll do is they’ll splash out some money and then if they win the election they then start cutting it back again.”

In a separate interview with Sky News, Mr McDonnell rejected the chancellor’s claim that austerity is “finally coming to an end”, saying it in fact “rolls on”.

“There’s a whole range of examples of people I think that will be crushingly disappointed as a result of yesterday,” he said.

Mr McDonnell said Labour would not overturn the government’s planned tax cuts, which will benefit the wealthy more than the worse off.

“We wouldn’t reverse that, we want more money in the economy, increased demand so people will spend. But you’ve got to have a balanced approach,” he said.

“We would have a fair taxation system, we would ask the top 5% to pay a bit more income tax.

“We’d reverse some of the corporation tax cuts.”

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