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After the Spring Statement backlash, Sunak wrangles with fellow ministers

More turbulence for the Chancellor lies ahead, as Rishi Sunak’s Tory leadership prospects hang in the balance.

By Ailbhe Rea

The fallout from Rishi Sunak’s Spring Statement will continue today, as the Chancellor faces scrutiny from sceptical MPs from his own party, as well as opposition parties, at the Treasury Select Committee this afternoon.

Sunak’s team have been in damage-control mode over the weekend following an unexpectedly negative public response to the measures he announced on Wednesday, which a majority of people think did not go far enough to help with the looming cost of living crisis. The newspapers have been briefed that a council tax rebate is on the cards in the Autumn Budget once the new energy price cap has been set, to reassure voters that more help is on its way.

But the Chancellor’s reluctance to commit to further spending is causing him a more immediate headache, as he finds himself at odds with yet more cabinet colleagues. Already in disagreement with Liz Truss and Ben Wallace over his refusal to commit more to defence spending in the Spring Statement, Sunak is now under pressure from No 10 and Kwasi Kwarteng’s business department to allocate funding to the UK’s energy security strategy, which has been delayed in the stand-off, the FT reports. Sunak feels he has little room for manoeuvre on spending, reluctant to borrow more for fear of a sudden increase in the cost of servicing the UK’s debt. His hands are tied by his self-imposed fiscal constraints, and, with rumours of a reshuffle in the air and a contest to succeed Boris Johnson as leader still somewhere in the background, his rivals are taking advantage. 

Does it mean that the chances of Sunak reaching No 10 have now evaporated? As I wrote yesterday, there is a strange disconnect between the ferocity of the public response to the Chancellor’s statement and the more muted reaction of Conservative MPs. They have their concerns, but many are still undecided about Sunak – and in the contest to become the next prime minister, they are the crucial electorate.

This piece first appeared in the Morning Call newsletter; subscribe here.

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