Jacob Rees-Mogg warns Rishi Sunak against tax rises

Cabinet split over tax rises to fill Covid black hole: Jacob Rees-Mogg warns Tories could lose election if they break manifesto pledge – despite Rishi Sunak insisting more money must be raised

  • Jacob Rees-Mogg said it is ‘very important to maintain manifesto commitments’  
  • The Commons Leader said breaking pledges has ‘consequences’ at ballot box
  • He said no ‘sensible party or government’ should break commitments ‘willy nilly’
  • Comes after Rishi Sunak has repeatedly hinted at tax rises to pay for Covid crisis 

Jacob Rees-Mogg has warned the Conservatives could lose the next general election if they break a manifesto pledge not to increase taxes as he put himself on a collision course with Rishi Sunak. 

The Commons Leader said it is ‘very important to maintain manifesto commitments’ and breaking them always results in ‘consequences’ at the ballot box.

He pointed to the example of George Bush Senior who vowed not to hike taxes ahead of the 1988 US presidential election only to then break the pledge after he won the White House, a move which contributed to his defeat in 1992.

Mr Rees-Mogg said ‘no sensible party or government’ breaks its manifesto pledges ‘willy nilly’.    

His comments come despite Mr Sunak having repeatedly hinted in recent months that there will be tax rises in the future as he tries to balance the books after the coronavirus crisis.

Jacob Rees-Mogg said it is ‘very important to maintain manifesto commitments’ and breaking them always results in ‘consequences’ at the ballot box

The Conservative Party pledged in its 2019 manifesto: ‘We promise not to raise the rates of income tax, National Insurance or VAT. This is a tax guarantee that will protect the incomes of hard-working families across the next Parliament.’ 

But Mr Sunak has said the UK will eventually have to pay for the economic damage done by Covid-19 after Government borrowing spiked to record levels to keep the country afloat. 

The Chancellor said at the end of October that ‘over time, and in line with other major economies, we must get our public finances back on a sustainable path’. 

Mr Rees-Mogg defended a decision by Mr Sunak to break the Tories’ manifesto commitment on foreign aid spending as he argued the reduction from 0.7 per cent to 0.5 per cent of GDP would be backed by most voters.

But he suggested a similar watering down of the tax promise could cost the Conservatives the next election. 

Speaking on The Moggcast, hosted by Conservative Home, he said: ‘I think it is very important to maintain manifesto commitments. I think it is an indication of your direction of travel, of your underlying philosophy. 

‘But I also recognise that sometimes a specific detail may simply be too difficult to maintain.

‘However, it is not to think that there aren’t consequences because you will remember “read my lips, no new taxes”. 

‘George Bush Senior said this again and again and again and then when it came to the Gulf War and the economic downturn he broke his promise and he lost the ensuing election. 

‘And so, no sensible party or government ever breaks manifesto commitments willy nilly. It needs extraordinary circumstances… it also needs public consent as does all government in reality to understand that it is a reasonable thing to do.’

It was suggested to Mr Rees-Mogg that the Tories could work around the tax promise by changing tax thresholds rather than the actual rates.  

Rishi Sunak has repeatedly hinted at tax rises to pay for the coronavirus crisis. At the end of October he said that ‘over time, and in line with other major economies, we must get our public finances back on a sustainable path’

But the Cabinet minister replied: ‘I have never thought manifestos worked in that way. I don’t think voters read them and say “they aren’t going to put the rates up but that allows them to do everything else other than put the rates up”. 

‘I think they look at the headline promise and they say “that means income tax is not going to be put up”. 

‘I think when governments get into doing that, which New Labour was absolutely expert at, it undermines trust in politics let alone in the party who does it.

‘It is a mistake to think that you can follow the letter of a manifesto promise and not the spirit of it because most people don’t read every page of a manifesto.’ 

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