David Cameron leaves 10 Downing Street ahead of the Budget. Photograph: Getty Images.
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We need a Budget for honesty

Osborne should change the words we use to describe our taxes: National Insurance is Earnings Tax and Jobs Tax.

In 1946, George Orwell published his famous essay "Politics and the English Language". In it, he argued that politicians fall back on tired phrases and waffle to mask their real meaning; that "when there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink".

This has not changed. In fact, it has become considerably worse. Orwell would be astounded at the way today’s political elite use language to gloss over reality; casually throwing meaningless phrases around like confetti. Ready-made phrases are the norm, and nowhere does language ‘perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself’ more than in debates over public spending.

Around Budget time we hear a lot about "fiscal overhang", "deficits", "consolidation" and, everyone’s big favourite, "quantitative easing" – even many politicians don’t fully grasp how this one works. These words tend to freeze people out of the public debate about how their tax money is spent. If you can’t understand something, you can’t decide whether it’s a good thing or not.

These euphemisms can also allow governments to get away with spending unsustainably, usually on big voter hand-outs, without justifying the consequences of their actions. That’s because it’s much easy to say you’re going to "run a higher deficit" than "spend another £10bn a year more than the government receives, on top of the £100bn it’s already overspending". And it’s a lot easier to say "we’re investing another £1bn in our future", rather than "we’re taking another £1bn from taxpayers’ money to spend on something that may or may not make living standards better in the future".

Last chance to make a clear statement

Next week’s Budget is the last chance to make big changes before the general election. And it’s the last chance we have to make ourselves crystal clear and set the terms of the economic debate for the next few decades. The Conservative-led coalition has shown that it is capable of dealing with our country’s short and medium-term fiscal problems by getting the deficit under control. As a result, Britain is now one of the fastest-growing countries in the OECD. 

While I am hopeful that our long-term economic plan and referendum commitment can reunite the Conservative family behind us, the dangers of a Labour government cannot be understated, given the electoral calculus and Labour’s failure to learn that overspending is what brought this country to its knees. So I’d like us to use this opportunity to do something radical that will change the political landscape. I want us to change the words we use to describe our taxes. 

National Insurance is Earnings Tax and Jobs Tax  

National Insurance is not an insurance scheme. It’s a tax. First, the rate you pay is determined by what you earn and not some risk premium. Secondly, the vast majority of National Insurance is used to pay non-contributory welfare benefits. Thirdly, the introduction of the single flat-rate pension and Universal Credit will cut the last frayed links between National Insurance and contributions. It will become what it already is: a second Income Tax.  National Insurance is split into two parts: Employers’ and Employees’ National Insurance. Employers’ National Insurance is a tax on jobs and workers, plain and simple.

Because Employers’ National Insurance doesn’t often appear on people’s wage slips, many are simply unaware that their boss has to pay another 13.8 per cent to the government on top of their salary every year. This means hiring a new member of staff at £24,500 costs another £2,000 in taxes to the government – every year. If employers didn’t have to pay this dangerous tax on jobs, they could hire more people – and possibly at a higher wage too.

This year the Chancellor has an opportunity to restore some honesty to the debate – and our tax system. He has the opportunity to break from the tired phrases and jargon and start calling these insidious taxes by their proper names.

A Conservative colleague, Ben Gummer MP, has proposed renaming employees’ National Insurance: the Earnings Tax. I’d go one step further and call the employers’ element: the Jobs Tax. That would certainly be refreshing and more transparent.

Let’s make it clear what we’re talking about

A simple change of language from National Insurance to Earnings Tax and Jobs Tax would not only be the honest way forward but it would also ensure that everyone clearly understands when any changes to these taxes are made in the future. 

If next year, a party tries to increase these taxes, it would be clear what they were aiming to do: take more of people’s money and destroy more of people’s jobs. With this kind of clarity, it would be a lot harder for any future government to fudge its words. Anytime a Labour government tried to hike the Jobs Tax, the public would start to ask serious questions.

Before last year’s Budget I called for a number of changes to boost growth. Since then, the Chancellor has slashed National Insurance for small businesses and scrapped it for young people. These are fantastic steps but, this time around, the Chancellor has an opportunity to make a firm footprint on the history of our tax system. Renaming National Insurance, if not now then at least before the next election, would change the debate for the better for decades to come.

Adam Afriyie is the Conservative MP for Windsor

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Former Irish premier John Bruton on Brexit: "Britain should pay for our border checks"

The former Taoiseach says Brexit has been interpreted as "a profoundly unfriendly act"

At Kapıkule, on the Turkish border with Bulgaria, the queue of lorries awaiting clearance to enter European Union territory can extend as long as 17km. Despite Turkey’s customs union for goods with the bloc, hauliers can spend up to 30 hours clearing a series of demanding administrative hoops. This is the nightmare keeping former Irish premier John Bruton up at night. Only this time, it's the post-Brexit border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and it's much, much worse.   

Bruton (pictured below), Taoiseach between 1994 and 1997, is an ardent pro-European and was historically so sympathetic to Britain that, while in office, he was pilloried as "John Unionist" by his rivals. But he believes, should she continue her push for a hard Brexit, that Theresa May's promise for a “seamless, frictionless border” is unattainable. 

"A good example of the sort of thing that might arise is what’s happening on the Turkish-Bulgarian border," the former leader of Ireland's centre-right Fine Gael party told me. “The situation would be more severe in Ireland, because the UK proposes to leave the customs union as well."

The outlook for Ireland looks grim – and a world away from the dynamism of the Celtic Tiger days Bruton’s coalition government helped usher in. “There will be all sorts of problems," he said. "Separate permits for truck drivers operating across two jurisdictions, people having to pay for the right to use foreign roads, and a whole range of other issues.” 

Last week, an anti-Brexit protest on the border in Killeen, County Louth, saw mock customs checks bring traffic to a near standstill. But, so far, the discussion around what the future looks like for the 260 border crossings has focused predominantly on its potential effects on Ulster’s fragile peace. Last week Bruton’s successor as Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, warned “any sort of physical border” would be “bad for the peace process”. 

Bruton does not disagree, and is concerned by what the UK’s withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights might mean for the Good Friday Agreement. But he believes the preoccupation with the legacy of violence has distracted British policymakers from the potentially devastating economic impact of Brexit. “I don’t believe that any serious thought was given to the wider impact on the economy of the two islands as a whole," he said. 

The collapse in the pound has already hit Irish exporters, for whom British sales are worth £15bn. Businesses that work across the border could yet face the crippling expense of duplicating their operations after the UK leaves the customs union and single market. This, he says, will “radically disturb” Ireland’s agriculture and food-processing industries – 55 per cent of whose products are sold to the UK. A transitional deal will "anaesthetise" people to the real impact, he says, but when it comes, it will be a more seismic change than many in London are expecting. He even believes it would be “logical” for the UK to cover the Irish government’s costs as it builds new infrastructure and employs new customs officials to deal with the new reality.

Despite his past support for Britain, the government's push for a hard Brexit has clearly tested Bruton's patience. “We’re attempting to unravel more than 40 years of joint work, joint rule-making, to create the largest multinational market in the world," he said. It is not just Bruton who is frustrated. The British decision to "tear that up", he said, "is regarded, particularly by people in Ireland, as a profoundly unfriendly act towards neighbours".

Nor does he think Leave campaigners, among them the former Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers, gave due attention to the issue during the campaign. “The assurances that were given were of the nature of: ‘Well, it’ll be alright on the night!’," he said. "As if the Brexit advocates were in a position to give any assurances on that point.” 

Indeed, some of the more blimpish elements of the British right believe Ireland, wedded to its low corporate tax rates and east-west trade, would sooner follow its neighbour out of the EU than endure the disruption. Recent polling shows they are likely mistaken: some 80 per cent of Irish voters say they would vote to remain in an EU referendum.

Irexit remains a fringe cause and Bruton believes, post-Brexit, Dublin will have no choice but to align itself more closely with the EU27. “The UK is walking away,” he said. “This shift has been imposed upon us by our neighbour. Ireland will have to do the best it can: any EU without Britain is a more difficult EU for Ireland.” 

May, he says, has exacerbated those difficulties. Her appointment of her ally James Brokenshire as secretary of state for Northern Ireland was interpreted as a sign she understood the role’s strategic importance. But Bruton doubts Ireland has figured much in her biggest decisions on Brexit: “I don’t think serious thought was given to this before her conference speech, which insisted on immigration controls and on no jurisdiction for the European Court of Justice. Those two decisions essentially removed the possibility for Ireland and Britain to work together as part of the EEA or customs union – and were not even necessitated by the referendum decision.”

There are several avenues for Britain if it wants to avert the “voluntary injury” it looks set to inflict to Ireland’s economy and its own. One, which Bruton concedes is unlikely, is staying in the single market. He dismisses as “fanciful” the suggestions that Northern Ireland alone could negotiate European Economic Area membership, while a poll on Irish reunification is "only marginally" more likely. 

The other is a variation on the Remoaners’ favourite - a second referendum should Britain look set to crash out on World Trade Organisation terms without a satisfactory deal. “I don’t think a second referendum is going to be accepted by anybody at this stage. It is going to take a number of years,” he said. “I would like to see the negotiation proceed and for the European Union to keep the option of UK membership on 2015 terms on the table. It would be the best available alternative to an agreed outcome.” 

As things stand, however, Bruton is unambiguous. Brexit means the Northern Irish border will change for the worse. “That’s just inherent in the decision the UK electorate was invited to take, and took – or rather, the UK government took in interpreting the referendum.”