Will George Osborne really make those 25 per cent cuts?

Michael Portillo warns Chancellor that extra tax rises may be needed to take the strain off cuts.

The most significant moment in George Osborne's Budget came when the Chancellor confirmed that he will cut spending on all non-protected departments (everything except Health and International Development) by 25 per cent on average. We won't get the full details until the spending review in October but that figure is chilling enough on its own.

Osborne told the House that he recognised the "particular pressures" on education and defence, a clear suggestion that spending in these areas will not be cut by that amount. But concessions for some means even more pain elsewhere. How would our substandard transport system cope with cuts of say 30 per cent?

It is for such reasons that some Tory figures are starting to doubt whether it will be either desirable or possible for Osborne to cut spending by this amount.

Michael Portillo, once chief secretary to the Treasury, has said he is "highly sceptical" that Osborne will maintain his plan to reduce the deficit through a 77:23 ratio of spending cuts to tax rises. He predicts that the coalition will revert to something like the 50:50 split adopted by Ken Clarke during the last major period of fiscal retrenchment in the 1990s.

Even the Economist, which endorsed the Tories at the election, has called for a more balanced apporach:

The Tories have said they want to rely on taxes for a fifth of the consolidation. That may be too ambitious. If something like 2 per cent of GDP were found by higher taxes, leaving spending to be cut by 5 per cent of GDP, it would still be a tougher mix than all but two of the ten biggest OECD deficit-cutters managed.

I expect once the cuts start hurting their constituents, a significant number of Tory MPs will feel the same way.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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PMQs review: Theresa May shows again that Brexit means hard Brexit

The Prime Minister's promise of "an end to free movement" is incompatible with single market membership. 

Theresa May, it is commonly said, has told us nothing about Brexit. At today's PMQs, Jeremy Corbyn ran with this line, demanding that May offer "some clarity". In response, as she has before, May stated what has become her defining aim: "an end to free movement". This vow makes a "hard Brexit" (or "chaotic Brexit" as Corbyn called it) all but inevitable. The EU regards the "four freedoms" (goods, capital, services and people) as indivisible and will not grant the UK an exemption. The risk of empowering eurosceptics elsewhere is too great. Only at the cost of leaving the single market will the UK regain control of immigration.

May sought to open up a dividing line by declaring that "the Labour Party wants to continue with free movement" (it has refused to rule out its continuation). "I want to deliver on the will of the British people, he is trying to frustrate the British people," she said. The problem is determining what the people's will is. Though polls show voters want control of free movement, they also show they want to maintain single market membership. It is not only Boris Johnson who is pro-having cake and pro-eating it. 

Corbyn later revealed that he had been "consulting the great philosophers" as to the meaning of Brexit (a possible explanation for the non-mention of Heathrow, Zac Goldsmith's resignation and May's Goldman Sachs speech). "All I can come up with is Baldrick, who says our cunning plan is to have no plan," he quipped. Without missing a beat, May replied: "I'm interested that [he] chose Baldrick, of course the actor playing Baldrick was a member of the Labour Party, as I recall." (Tony Robinson, a Corbyn critic ("crap leader"), later tweeted that he still is one). "We're going to deliver the best possible deal in goods and services and we're going to deliver an end to free movement," May continued. The problem for her is that the latter aim means that the "best possible deal" may be a long way from the best. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.