Chancellor Philip Hammond today claimed BBC Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg was the first person to notice his tax hike breached the Tory manifesto.
In the Commons this afternoon, the Chancellor was asked whether it was he or the Prime Minister who first realised increasing National Insurance for self-employed workers was a “flagrant breach” of the Tory’s election promise.
Hammond revealed that it was actually Kuenssberg in her post-Budget analysis last Wednesday who made him aware/
Labour’s Yvette Cooper described the claim as “astonishing”, while the SNP’s Alex Salmond joked that Kuenssberg should be added to the Cabinet to help get Budgets right in future.
Other MPs questioned why neither the Chancellor, the Prime Minister or other Government figures had not realised the tax rise went against the party’s election promises.
Hammond also revealed the final decision on ditching the policy was taken by him and Theresa May at 8am this morning, meaning it had not been approved by Cabinet ministers at their weekly get-together on Tuesday.
Responding to a question from the SNP’s Alex Salmond on who first realised the Government was in breach of its manifesto promise, Hammond said: “I think credit where credit is due, it was actually Laura Kuenssberg on the BBC shortly after I said it in the Budget speech.”
Former Shadow Home Secretary Cooper pressed Hammond on the point, asking: “Could he confirm that in fact nobody in Number 10 and nobody in Number 11 actually checked the Conservative manifesto before he wrote the Budget?”
Hammond responded: “I think Laura Kuenssberg was the first person after I spoke to raise the issue outside.
“I accept that there is a gap between the specific tax locks that were legislated and the wording that was used during the manifesto and we’ve today accepted that the more expansive interpretation should be the one that prevails.”
On the policy itself, Labour MP for Hammersmith Andy Slaughter called for clarity from the Chancellor as to why he was abandoning the tax rise.
He said: “I can’t understand his position now. Is it ‘I was absolutely right to raise National Insurance contributions for the self-employed, and that’s why I’m not going to do it’?”
Hammond replied: “I’ve distinguished the two issues. The substance of this is it is absolutely right to address this discrepancy which is no longer justified by the difference in access to benefits but it is also right that we accept the wider interpretation of the manifesto commitment that my honourable friends have expressed to me.”