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9 March 2017

Theresa May is running out of ways to avoid defeat over national insurance

The numbers of MPs who have publicly opposed the measure continues to rise - and DUP sources expect it to fail.

By Stephen Bush

The pressure is growing on the government over its planned increase to national insurance contributions. The number of Conservative MPs speaking out against the measure is already enough to overturn the government’s majority. Guto Bebb, a government minister and Welsh MP, says he intends to apologise to every voter in Wales for the breach of the Conservative promise.

Could the party squeak over the line with the support of Labour? That the measure makes the tax system more progressive means that ideologically, Labour has reason to side with Philip Hammond on this. But the leadership has no intention to “bail out” the Conservatives, not least because they regard the move as a half-measure in terms of the problems of the gig economy and the wider phenomenon of self-employment.

Who else might help the government out of its hole? The government could squeak over the line thanks to the votes of the Democratic Unionist Party, but the DUP would exact a heavy price from the government for bailing them out. The change already raises a derisory amount of extra revenue, so passing it through that route would likely mean that the Treasury lost money overall. 

So the government is not going to find the votes it loses from the Conservative Party elsewhere. A U-Turn, however embarrassing, may be the only way to avoid parliamentary defeat. 

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