LONDON — Jeremy Hunt, the man brought in to rescue Liz Truss’s faltering prime ministership and calm frightened markets, warned on Sunday that he is “taking nothing off the table” when it comes to shaping the economy‘s policy reconsider government.
In a round of radio interviews, Hunt – who was appointed Britain’s top finance secretary on Friday after Truss sacked Kwasi Kwarteng – left the door open to new about-faces on the debt-fueled tax cut promises that helped Truss become Conservative leader in a matter of weeks before.
“We’re going to have to make some very difficult decisions, both on spending and on taxation,” Hunt told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg falling fast as people thought and some taxes will rise,” he added.
Hunt — a former cabinet minister and two-time contender for the center-left Conservative Party leadership — now finds himself in an extraordinarily powerful position, having been drafted to save Truss’s premiership amid plummeting poll numbers and economic turmoil. Conservative MPs have openly criticized her leadership amid feverish speculation in Westminster that the party will seek to oust her – a move that would likely require a change in the party’s internal rules and could make Britain its third prime minister this year.
As well as sacking her chancellor, Truss was forced on Friday to give up a totemic promise from her leadership campaign and she will now raise corporate taxes as originally planned by the man she defeated in the Tory contest, Rishi Sunak. What followed was a humiliating descent over tax cut plans for Britain’s top earners, unveiled in September in a so-called mini-budget that was not subjected to the usual scrutiny of Britain’s independent financial regulator, prompted emergency intervention by the Bank of England and led to a sharp surge the mortgage rates.
Hunt went armed to his BBC interview with a message to voters and MPs nervous. “One thing I want to reassure families who are concerned at home is that our priority, the lens through which we are going to do this, is compassionate Conservative government and we will have those decisions first struggling families, struggling businesses, the most vulnerable people, and we will do what we can to protect them,” he said.
Pressed on the scope of his revised tax and spending plans ahead of a tax announcement scheduled for October 31, Hunt told the BBC: “I’m not taking anything off the table.”
But he warned Conservative MPs against trying to oust Truss, saying another leadership contest is “the last thing people really want”.
Elsewhere on Sunday, Tory MPs openly expressed anger at the Truss administration. Senior backbencher and education committee chair Robert Halfon said he was not asking Truss to leave “at this point in time” but was calling for a “dramatic repeal” of her position as prime minister.
The government, he told Sky News, looked like “libertarian jihadists” treating the country like “lab mice”.
Amid efforts by some Government Ministers to portray the UK’s economic woes as entirely global, former Bank of England Deputy Governor Charlie Bean told Sky’s Sophy Ridge Show: “Frankly I find it disingenuous to say that everything is a global phenomenon; it is not.”
Referring to the rate hikes the UK is now facing, Bean argued that about two-thirds were due to global factors, with the remainder being a UK-specific phenomenon that has unfolded since the mini-budget. “Basically, we’ve gone from having a not too dissimilar look like the US or Germany as a source of credit to a more Italian and Greek look,” he said.