The chancellor says he would do “whatever it takes” during the pandemic, and that he has done and will continue to do so. He says there has been acute damage to the economy, with more than 700,000 people losing their jobs, the economy shrinking by 10% – the largest fall in 300 years, and borrowing is highest it has been outside of wartime. “It’s going to take this country, and the whole world, a long time to recover from this extraordinary situation,” he says.
Sunak also says he wants to be honest about the government’s plans for fixing the public finances, and set out plans for the future.
Peter Walker, political correspondent: Two likely repeated tropes make an early appearance. First, Sunak stresses the “acute” damage that coronavirus has done to the economy, a not-very-coded warning of difficult decisions to come. There is also an outing for a Brand Sunak buzz phrase – that he will do “whatever it takes” to protect people from the economic impact of Covid.
PW: Yet more caution-and-context from Sunak, who stresses that coronavirus has done “profound damage” to the UK economy. Again, this is a warning to MPs and the public to expect tax rises, if not immediately then in the near future.
PW: The extension of furlough and the extension of support to self-employed people are among the many pre-trailed elements of this budget, and none of this is a surprise. Similarly, the six-month extension of the universal credit increase was also briefed in advance. Politically, this is still the (relatively) easy part of Sunak’s job. By the time of the next budget, he – or another chancellor – could be facing a significant jobs crisis.
PW: Yet more money being sprayed around to support businesses recovering from Covid. Once more, a fair bit of this was known in advance. We are almost 15 minutes into the speech, without any big surprises. We are a long way from the era when every detail in a budget was kept locked away until announced in the Commons.
PW: Without wishing to sound like a broken record, the extension of stamp duty cut and help for 95% mortgages were both widely trailed. It is more or less an annual feature of recent budgets that they promise to extend the ability of people to buy properties, but very little seems to change, as prices rise ever more.
PW: It is not the norm for Conservative chancellors to boast about how much money they have spent. But these are very much not normal times.
PW: If anyone listening might have briefly forgotten that Sunak is in fact a Tory chancellor, the grave tone he takes in talking about borrowing serves as a reminder. We are still, politically, some way from the Cameron/Osborne austerity era, but Sunak gives this an approving shout-out – something more for the Conservative backbenchers than the watching public.
PW: This is a pretty big rise, but the deferment to 2023 and other measures are calculated to muffle business protests. Labour – which has only said it will oppose immediate tax increases – will now have to decide whether it will back it. For the other measure, in political terms, freezing personal tax thresholds is something of a stealth tax – it’s a benefit deferred, not a penalty imposed, even if Sunak says he is being very open about this.
In Brand Sunak terms, “super-deduction” isn’t quite as snappy as “eat out to help out”, and the chancellor has to use an example to better explain exactly what he means, but it will be seen as a countermeasure to the corporation tax increase, and wins some cheers from his MPs.
PW: The freeze to fuel duty was, once again, widely expected, and is a testament to the astonishingly strong lobbying efforts by Tory backbenchers on this front, which continue to reap success, year after year, whatever other green measures or targets.
PW: The green announcements – also now more or less obligatory in budgets – are fairly modest, and you can expect Labour, especially the shadow business secretary, Ed Miliband, to argue this is an opportunity missed for a post-Covid green revolution.
PW: The idea of shunting government departments to non-London locations has long been a popular one, but can seem symbolic, and as ever, the idea of “levelling up” still feels slightly nebulous. Much of the Conservatives’ 2024 election chances will depend on being able to make it feel to voters like it is something genuine.