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Splits in the governing U.K. Conservative Party burst into the open Sunday as senior Tory Michael Gove suggested he could vote against the “profoundly concerning” budget unveiled by new Prime Minister Liz Truss.
Gove, a leading light of the 2016 Brexit campaign who has served in a host of top government roles, told the BBC the Truss fiscal plan — which precipitated market turmoil and a fall in the value of the pound — was “not Conservative.”
It comes as Truss, whose party is gathering in Birmingham, England, for its annual conference, faces the prospect of a bruising House of Commons rebellion as she tries to enact the tax-cutting plan.
Asked three times how he would vote regarding the proposals, Gove declined to answer, saying only: “I don’t believe it’s right.”
September’s so-called mini-budget, unveiling a host of debt-funded tax cuts, has been deeply controversial. The plan, which included a scrapping of the top rate of tax, a removal of the cap on bankers’ bonuses, and a multibillion-pound measure to cap consumer and business energy costs, was not subjected to the usual independent scrutiny from Britain’s fiscal watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR).
It was followed by major turmoil in the markets, and a sharp drop in support for the Tories, according to several opinion polls.
Speaking to the BBC on Sunday, Truss acknowledged that the government “should have laid the ground better” for the mini-budget, which the government argues will help spur growth over the longer-term when combined with a host of yet-to-be-detailed supply-side reforms.
“I have learnt from that,” she said. “I will make sure in future we do a better job of laying the ground.”
Defending the plan, Truss pointed to global interest-rate increases and the “very difficult world” resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“I want to reassure people that we do have a very clear plan — first of all about how we are going to get through this winter with our energy plan but also how we are dealing with the issue of a slowing economy,” she said.
But Gove — who backed Truss’ defeated rival Rishi Sunak in the race to lead the Tories — argued that there had still been “an inadequate realization at the top of government about the scale of change required,” including the “sheer risk of using borrowed money to fund tax cuts.”
“That’s not Conservative,” he added.
The former Cabinet minister questioned the move to slash the top rate of income tax and free up bankers’ pay “at a time when people are suffering.”
He said: “This is a time of profound uncertainty and concern for people across the country. We’re in grim economic circumstances, people are facing the prospects of their mortgages rising, people are looking to Liz and Kwasi and they want reassurance,” referring to Chancellor of the Exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng.
The Times reported this weekend that some Conservative MPs are in talks with the opposition Labour Party about overturning measures in the budget — a move that party chairman Jake Berry made clear would result in those MPs being stripped of the Conservative whip.
Truss faces anger from within her own ranks over a suggestion from a top minister this weekend that public services will now face cuts to pay for the mini-budget’s tax reductions.
On that front, the prime minister on Sunday refused to commit to increasing social security spending in line with inflation, as promised by her predecessor, Boris Johnson.
And, asked whether there will be real-term cuts to departmental budgets, said: “I’m not going to write future budgets on your show. I believe in outcomes rather than inputs, so I believe in what people see and what people feel.”