James Cleverly has said Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng U-turned on plans to scrap the 45p tax rate because the media would not stop talking about it.
In a fiery clash with Kay Burley on Sky News, the foreign secretary said the row over a tax cut for the highest earners had become a “distraction” from the government’s other policies.
The chancellor was forced into an embarrassing climbdown under pressure from Tory MPs to change course.
But Cleverly said: “What you’re describing as a U-turn is the smallest element of a really big and significant support package to families, tax cut to families, stimulus package for the British economy.
“You guys were constantly talking about the 45p tax rate, which is why we had to take it away, so that us guys could talk about the 95 per cent of that package which was about cutting tax for working families, support for people trying to pay their energy bills, giving growth zones around the country, infrastructure investment for transport which unlocks the growth in the economy - that’s what we wanted to talk about and that’s what we will talk about.”
He added: “It was a distraction. Because that was the only thing you guys wanted to talk about, we couldn’t talk about the tax cuts for 30 million working people, the growth zones, the support package for people trying to pay their energy bills, the growth plan for the economy. We want to talk about these positive things.”
Cleverly also slapped down Suella Braverman after she accused rebel Tory MPs of staging “a coup” against the prime minister over the 45p tax cut fiasco.
He said ministers should take their concerns directly to Liz Truss rather than speaking out in public.
Cleverly said: “[Suella] chose the words that she chose. When you’re in government you have the opportunity to feed your ideas straight to the top of the machine - it’s always best done around the cabinet table or in cabinet committee meetings that we have. That’s how i would do it.”
“I haven’t seen the complete context of what she said, but my view is anything to do with policy or the relationship with other ministers, always better to feed straight in to the boss.”
Cleverly refused to be drawn on the row over the PM’s plans to cut benefits in real terms, which was criticised yesterday by Commons leader Penny Mordaunt.
On her intervention, Cleverly told the BBC: “I always think it’s better to feed your ideas directly into the centre of the system because ultimately we’ve got to make decisions that work for the UK, we’ve got to make decisions for those people on benefits who need our support, but also for the people who pay the tax that fund our benefits and public services.”