Labour urges new chancellor to 'get a grip' ahead of Budget 2020 announcement

9 March 2020, 15:00

Labour&squot;s John McDonnell has told the new chancellor to "get a grip" in the upcoming Budget
Labour's John McDonnell has told the new chancellor to "get a grip" in the upcoming Budget. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Labour's John McDonnell has urged Chancellor Rishi Sunak to "get a grip" ahead of Wednesday's 2020 Budget announcement.

The shadow chancellor delivered his final major speech on Monday before leaving the role and returning to the backbenches.

Speaking in London, Mr McDonnell called on the new chancellor to use his Budget to emphasise that the government will do "everything necessary" to shore up the economy in the face of the coronavirus outbreak.

He said ministers had been too slow to respond in the face of the threat to economic confidence.

"In these circumstances, you need to be fast in demonstrating that there is a clear plan. Blind optimism is no substitute for that.

"Attempting to let out reassuring noises in dribs and drabs is not enough and has proved to be not enough," he said.

"The government's delaying of any statement until the Budget date itself doesn't seem to appreciate the urgency of action that is needed to promote confidence and reassurance."

He then expressed his concern at the chancellor's "tardiness ... in seeking to reassure the public and markets."

"It is better to be straight with people now and make it absolutely clear the government will back fiscal measures to overcome short-term demand and supply issues," he added.

Mr McDonnell urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the chancellor to demonstrate "leadership, commitment, indeed political, diplomatic and indeed managerial ability" in the wake of the Covid-19 infection.

"I just say gently, someone needs to get a grip," he said.

"As in the past, the UK could and should play a critical role in mobilising the international bodies we have, in particular the UN, to agree a global response to deal not just with the current wave of this pandemic but the possible subsequent waves.

"The coronavirus infection has exposed the social emergency that we face in our public services after 10 years of austerity."

The shadow chancellor said the country was "extremely ill-prepared for dealing with this type of large-scale health risk to our community."

The shadow chancellor was making his last speech in the role before moving to the backbenches
The shadow chancellor was making his last speech in the role before moving to the backbenches. Picture: PA

He previously told reporters that public gatherings should be banned if the nation's Chief Medical Officer recommends.

"If it comes to that – and he recommends that – we need to get on with it. It will have economic consequences so let’s look at the support now," he said.

Apart from the coronavirus, Mr McDonnell said the upcoming Budget was important because of two other crises that are among "the most serious our country has ever faced."

"After 10 years of harsh and unnecessary austerity we also face a social emergency, with extremes of poverty and inequality and crises in every one of our core public services," he said.

"And, of course, we are confronted by the overall existential threat of climate change and the growing, deeply troubling realisation that we are rapidly running out of time to avert a climate crisis."

Mr McDonnell also warned that the NHS is under "intense pressure" following years of "underfunding and understaffing" and encouraged the Conservatives to fulfil their promise to give the NHS what it needs.