Revealed: how Osborne misled MPs over the deficit

The Chancellor said that borrowing was forecast to fall this year but the small print of the Office for Budget Responsibility document suggests otherwise.

Against expectations, George Osborne announced in his Budget speech that the deficit was forecast to fall "this year and next". He insisted that this was the case even if special factors (such as the transfer of the Royal Mail pension fund) are excluded. 

But scour the small print of the Office for Budget Responsibility document and it emerges that the Chancellor misled the House. As Table 4.36 shows, "excluding Royal Mail, APF and SLS transfers" (the final column), borrowing is forecast to rise from £121bn in 2011-12 to £123.2bn in 2012-13. As in last year's Autumn Statement, when he banked the 4G receipts early, Osborne has once again relied on smoke and mirrors to disguise his fiscal failings. 

This isn't mere pedantry; consistent deficit reduction is crucial to Osborne's narrative that "we're on the right track". But as the figures below show, that is far from the case. 

George Osborne poses for pictures outside 11 Downing Street in London before the Budget. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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PMQs review: Theresa May shows how her confidence has grown

After her Brexit speech, the PM declared of Jeremy Corbyn: "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue". 

The woman derided as “Theresa Maybe” believes she has neutralised that charge. Following her Brexit speech, Theresa May cut a far more confident figure at today's PMQs. Jeremy Corbyn inevitably devoted all six of his questions to Europe but failed to land a definitive blow.

He began by denouncing May for “sidelining parliament” at the very moment the UK was supposedly reclaiming sovereignty (though he yesterday praised her for guaranteeing MPs would get a vote). “It’s not so much the Iron Lady as the irony lady,” he quipped. But May, who has sometimes faltered against Corbyn, had a ready retort. The Labour leader, she noted, had denounced the government for planning to leave the single market while simultaneously seeking “access” to it. Yet “access”, she went on, was precisely what Corbyn had demanded (seemingly having confused it with full membership). "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue,” she declared.

When Corbyn recalled May’s economic warnings during the referendum (“Does she now disagree with herself?”), the PM was able to reply: “I said if we voted to leave the EU the sky would not fall in and look at what has happened to our economic situation since we voted to leave the EU”.

Corbyn’s subsequent question on whether May would pay for single market access was less wounding than it might have been because she has consistently refused to rule out budget contributions (though yesterday emphasised that the days of “vast” payments were over).

When the Labour leader ended by rightly hailing the contribution immigrants made to public services (“The real pressure on public services comes from a government that slashed billions”), May took full opportunity of the chance to have the last word, launching a full-frontal attack on his leadership and a defence of hers. “There is indeed a difference - when I look at the issue of Brexit or any other issues like the NHS or social care, I consider the issue, I set out my plan and I stick to it. It's called leadership, he should try it some time.”

For May, life will soon get harder. Once Article 50 is triggered, it is the EU 27, not the UK, that will take back control (the withdrawal agreement must be approved by at least 72 per cent of member states). With MPs now guaranteed a vote on the final outcome, parliament will also reassert itself. But for now, May can reflect with satisfaction on her strengthened position.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.