New Times,
New Thinking.

  1. Politics
10 March 2017updated 15 Mar 2017 12:24pm

The Tories’ tax troubles show how tough they will find Brexit

Theresa May could need to take far more unpopular decisions to get the best Brexit deal.

By Stephen Bush

U-Turn if you want to, the Lady’s not for Turning. At least not yet. Theresa May has stuck by her plan to increase national insurance contributions but the vote will be held off until the autumn.

Politically, that makes it an easier sell: if you want to avoid the crisis in the public finances that the growing trend of self-employment is going to cause, you need level out two inequalities: between the employed and the self-employed in the tax system, and between the self-employed and the employed in terms of workplace rights and protections. Philip Hammond’s blunder was in asking the self-employed to pay now and be protected later.

But the run-up may not work out as the PM intends. As the U-Turn over business rates shows, giving your internal opponents a run-up doesn’t always work out how you plan. The steady drip of anti-NICs stories may make the parliamentary arithmetic harder rather than easier. And seeing as Downing Street prefers not to fill the news of its own accord, anti-NICs stories are unlikely to go away anytime soon.

Adding to the general sense of disarray, the ghosts of Christmas past are circling. David Cameron’s old spin chief Craig Oliver was on Newsnight last night saying that the sense that a manifesto pledge has been broken leaves the government in a “very difficult” position. Michael Gove has taken a pop in his Times column, warning that May’s caution risks bungling Brexit. And ITV’s Chris Ship has spotted footage of David Cameron himself saying what looks to my  eyes to be “Breaking a manifesto promise? How stupid can you be?” (Although it could also be “he”, “she” or “tree” though the latter seems implausible somehow. Head over to Twitter if you want to see a whole bunch of political journalists engaging in amateur lipreading.)

Does it really matter? Despite the fact the government is being criticised by its own grandees and facing an embarrassing U-Turn with big implications for future revenue, the Conservatives are still in possession of a record-breaking lead in the opinion polls. (The latest YouGov puts them 19 points ahead, and happily, once again finds a plurality of voters quite likes the NIC rise: 47 per cent in fact.)

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

But it is a reminder of three things that are easy to forget about the May government. The first is that it has a small Commons majority. The second is that it has inherited a series of dubious promises, both from its Conservative predecessor and Vote Leave. Those two sets of promises can’t really be reconciled internally let alone with one another. The third is that May has few die-hard allies when the going gets tough.

All of which means that the issue to watch is the question of that E60bn EU divorce bill, back in the news again after the PM refused to rule out paying it on Brussels and Boris Johnson said she should channel Margaret Thatcher and refuse to pay large sums into the EU. 

One of Britain’s best cards is that, as a EU creditor and a large economy, is to buy the deal it needs by paying an outsized price for the parts of EU membership it wants to keep. We’ve seen how difficult the government finds getting its way on a small and popular measure. It doesn’t bode well for the large and unpopular one it may need to get the best Brexit deal.

Content from our partners
ADHD in the criminal justice system: a case for change – with Takeda
The power of place in tackling climate change
Tackling the UK's biggest health challenges