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9 March 2017

Shock! Philip Hammond seems to hint Brexit is a problem

The word "bloodbath" came to mind after the Chancellor was grilled on the Today program.

By media mole

Can someone fetch Philip Hammond some Savlon? This mole heard the Today program this morning, and he got burned.

Following yesterday’s budget, the Chancellor faced tough questions from Radio 4 presenter Nick Robinson.

Pressed on the rise in National Insurance contributions for the self-employed – which, Robinson pointed out, breaks a key Tory manifesto pledge – Hammond spoke euphemistically of “new challenges” in the country, and the “constrained environment” within which he is forced to operate.

“We are navigating within those confines to prepare Britain for Brexit”, he explained.

But Robinson was not convinced, asking: “Are you essentially saying that white van man – white van woman – is paying the consequences of voting for Brexit?”

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Floundering, Hammond then suggested that a mandate to change tax rates is the right of every Chancellor – a line which is unlikely to calm his party’s own angry backbenchers. (More than ten Tory MPs are lining up to oppose the hikes for the self-employed.)

Yesterday’s “banter” was mysteriously absent as Robinson continued to grill the Chancellor.

Eventually, Robinson gave up pressing Hammond on the tax cuts and moved to a second manifesto pledge: balancing the budget.

Hammond’s predecessor, George Osborne, repeatedly stressed the importance of “balancing the budget”, using it as a justification for that “austerity” business we all know and love.

But pressed on the Today program, Hammond, again, could only plead that “our circumstances have changed”.

The world changes around us and we have to deal with the world as it really is. I could have stuck to my predecessor’s target of having the budget in balance by the end of this parliament. But that would have required us to squeeze the economy.

That would not have been a sensible thing to do as we prepare to face the challenges of coming out of the European Union and making our way in the global economy.

Is this an admission that Brexit may – gasp! – actually have consequences? Did a Tory just suggest that, actually, austerity might not be great for the economy?

I think I could get used to this.