Jeremy Corbyn calls the Budget 'a cruel joke'

11 March 2020, 16:30 | Updated: 12 March 2020, 08:17

Jeremy Corbyn has branded the Budget a "cruel joke" that fails to reverse the effects of austerity
Jeremy Corbyn has branded the Budget a "cruel joke" that fails to reverse the effects of austerity. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has called the Budget "a cruel joke" and "an admission of failure" following the chancellor's speech in the Commons.

The leader of the opposition "welcomed" the government's decision to take steps to reduce the impact of the coronavirus outbreak but said the rest of the Budget "doesn't come close" to fixing the country's problems.

Mr Corbyn accused the chancellor of using "sleight of hand" to try and deceive the public into thinking today's announcements were a "turning point for the country."

Read more: 'Coronavirus Budget' - the chancellor's speech as it happened

Read more: How will Rishi Sunak's spending spree affect you?

He added that the changes being made "go nowhere near reversing the damage" caused by a decade of austerity.

"Today's Budget was billed as a turning point, a chance to deliver, in particular on the promises made to working-class communities during the general election," he said.

"But it doesn't come close."

He continued: "The government's boast of the biggest investment since the 1950s is frankly a sleight of hand. It's in fact only the biggest since they began their slash and burn assault on our services, economic infrastructure and living standards in 2010.

"Having ruthlessly forced down the living standards and life chances of millions of our people for a decade, the talk of levelling up is a cruel joke.

Mr Corbyn went on to say that this Budget was an admission that austerity had been a "failed experiment" which did not solve the country's economic problems and, in fact, "made them worse."

He slammed the Tories for holding back the country's recovery and for failing even while they held the reins of power.

The leader of the opposition referenced the 100,000 staff vacancies in the NHS and said the service had been devastated by a £1 billion "slashing" in recent years.

He said: "Public health is based on the principle that prevention is better than cure, but this government is providing money only after a serious outbreak is under way."

In addition, he claimed that social care "is in crisis" as there was an £8 billion funding gap since the Tories came to power in 2010.

On the economy, the Labour chief said the UK's position is "fundamentally weak" and that the government's claim of the largest increase in public spending was "smoke and mirrors."

Mr Corbyn concluded by ironically thanking Dominic Cummings for "writing a Budget so quickly," but said that it had been "a let down."

He finished by saying: "The reality of today's announcements will become clear and the hard sell and the spin will fade away and this Budget will then be seen to be a lost opportunity, a failure of ambition and a bitter disappointment to all those people who had been promised so much, but from what we've heard today, they're actually going to see very, very little."

Former Green Party leader Caroline Lucas said there had been "plenty of green rhetoric" in the Budget but that the actions of the Treasury "continue to drive the climate emergency."

"We've got a freeze on the fossil fuel duty, the freeze in the fuel duty, we've got over £20 billion in new roads compared to just £1 billion on green transport, and no commitment to removing the climate-destroying duty to maximise the economic recovery of fossil fuels," she said.

The SNP's spokesman in the Commons Ian Blackford called for greater measures to boost the tourism and hospitality sectors during the Covid-19 outbreak.

He told MPs: "Urgent measures are needed to help the tourism and the hospitality industry above and beyond what has been offered today.

"Industry leaders are already warning of the consequences of the coronavirus with a raft of booking cancellations and a significant drop in numbers.

"The SNP has advocated a package of measures including a temporary drop in the VAT rate to 5% to help businesses reduce their costs."

Conservative former prime minister Theresa May commended Chancellor Rishi Sunak for the "difficult" Budget he had to deliver.

She said: "I trust in the discussions that were held prior to the delivery of the Budget that there was the necessary tension between No 10 and the Treasury in developing this Budget.

"Generally speaking, prime ministers want to spend money and chancellors want to manage the public finances prudently."

Tory former chancellor Sajid Javid, who was sat behind Mrs May and stepped down from the role mid-February, could be heard joking: "So true."

However, Mrs May also criticised the chancellor for "not mentioning" the industrial strategy in his Budget speech.

Mr Javid then congratulated his successor, saying that although he "recognised much" of the Budget, Mr Sunak was "absolutely right to focus" on the threat posed by the coronavirus.