Rishi Sunak has indicated he will extend emergency support packages as the coronavirus lockdown is unwound and did not deny he would first raise taxes before cutting them ahead of the election.
The chancellor insisted ahead of this week’s Budget that he is in favour of low taxes but said he needs to repair the public finances from the “shock” of the pandemic.
He did not deny telling Tory MPs in private that he would raise them now before cutting them in a pre-election Budget in the future.
Sunak said he must “level with people”, with Covid having had an “enormous hold on our economy” that will cause debt to “rise indefinitely” if borrowing continues after the recovery.
But he suggested current support packages for jobs and businesses, such as the furlough scheme, would continue as England comes out of the national lockdown in the coming months.
He said he wants to “support people and businesses along that path” to ending restrictions steadily until June 21, as set out by Boris Johnson.
“We went big, we went early and there’s more to come next week,” Sunak told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday.
The chancellor was pressed on whether he told Conservative MPs in private that he would seek to raise taxes now and then cut them before the election.
“I think in the short term what we need to do is protect the economy and keep supporting the economy through the road map, and over time what we need to do is make sure our public finances are sustainable,” Sunak said.
“That isn’t going to happen overnight, that’s going to be work that takes time given the scale of the shock that we’ve experienced but if you’re asking do I want to deliver low taxes for people, of course I do.”
Sunak said he cannot talk about tax outside the Budget and declined to say whether he would stick by the manifesto pledge not to raise the rate of income tax, VAT or national insurance.
Treasury sources did not deny a report suggesting the chancellor plans to raise £6 billion by freezing income tax thresholds for at least three years.
The Sunday Times said he would freeze the £12,500 point at which people start paying the basic rate of income tax and the £50,000 threshold where they begin paying the higher 40p rate, as he aims to raise £43 billion a year.
The move would allow Sunak to raise extra funds without breaking the manifesto pledge that guaranteed the Conservatives would not raise the “rate” of income tax.
But it was estimated the move would push an extra 1.6 million people into a higher tax bracket before the next general election is due in 2024.