In Depth

Rishi Sunak’s debut Budget: how did the new chancellor do?

Tories step away from austerity with ‘Labour-style’ spending spree

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is being widely praised after presenting his first Budget, which ends a decade of Tory austerity.

The spending plan includes a £30bn stimulus package to counter the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak, with Sunak pledging “whatever it takes, whatever it costs” to help the NHS tackle the crisis.

Overall, his Budget brings “significant increases in capital and day-to-day spending, financed primarily by extra borrowing”, reports the Financial Times.

The newspaper’s Sebastian Payne says the Budget speech was “masterfully delivered” by the new chancellor, who had less than a month to prepare, after replacing Sajid Javid in Boris Johnson’s February reshuffle.

“Tory MPs are impressed. But it also has to be the least Conservative budget in living memory. Sunak occupying a new political centre ground,” Payne tweeted.

Sky News’ Beth Rigby is also impressed.

The Spectator’s assistant editor Isabel Hardman agrees that Sunak delivered “a truly impressive Budget speech on its own terms, let alone as a debut”, a view echoed by HuffPost editor Paul Waugh. 

Standing at the Commons despatch box, the Exchequer boss riffed on the Conservative election promise to “Get Brexit done”, repeating that the Tories were the party of “getting things done” - and even pledging to “get the A303 done” as part of infrastructure plans.

He also gave a shout-out to his predecessor, saying: “Saj, we’re getting it done.”

At one point, a cry of “Nailed it, Rishi” could be heard from the benches as the chancellor made a joke at his Labour Party counterpart’s expense. “There will be no VAT on historical fiction by Hilary Mantel, textbooks like Gray’s Anatomy or indeed works of fantasy like John McDonnell’s Economics for the Many,” Sunak quipped.

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The Times’ Gemma Godfrey is among a number of commentators suggesting that Sunak might already be eyeing up his next promotion.

Meanwhile, The Guardian’s Andrew Sparrow notes that Jeremy Corbyn faced a tough task in talking down Sunak’s spending package, as “a set of measures that would have sat very happily in a Labour budget”.

“The opposition has spent the last five years at least denouncing austerity and demanding higher spending on public services and a massive programme of investment. And that is what the Treasury has delivered,” Sparrow adds.

BBC presenter Andrew Neil agrees, describing the package as “reminiscent of a Gordon Brown budget”, reports the Daily Express.

“[Sunak] splashed the cash from everything to more money for the NHS, roads, to research and development. He also mentioned various tax cuts and various freezing of taxes like the fuel levy,” said Neil.

“It was a huge budget in terms of its content and it will take a lot of unpicking.”

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