Jeremy Hunt is facing a rebellion on the right of the Conservative party over his autumn statement after the former cabinet minister Esther McVey said she could not support the taxes rises while projects such as HS2 went ahead.
Hinting that she could vote against the fiscal measures, she said the autumn statement could be the “final nail” for the party’s electoral chances.
Other Conservative backbenchers to have questioned Hunt’s budgetary plans include McVey’s fellow rightwingers John Redwood, a supporter of Liz Truss and former cabinet minister, and Richard Drax.
Redwood said Hunt should have considered “popular spending cuts” such as axing the £11bn to the Bank of England to deal with bond market turmoil, “ending the hotel bills for illegal migrants” and “stopping the anti-driver expensive changes to main roads”.
Drax argued that raising taxes on businesses and workers “risks stifling the growth and productivity that he [Hunt] and I both want, and that would counter the recession we are now in”.
Jacob Rees-Mogg called the package of tax rises the “easy option”, suggesting that Hunt should have looked at the “efficiency of government”.
McVey told GB News that she could not support the decision to raise taxes for “squeezed” Britons. “What you don’t need is less of your earnings coming into your pocket,” she said. “I think – as various people have written – was this the end of the Tory party and is this going to be the nail in the coffin for the next general election … I can’t be supporting these rises, I said look at other places that you could have saved the money and got more value for the British people.”
Michael Fabricant, another Conservative MP, has previously said Tories would “think twice” about supporting tax rises when HS2 was going ahead.
Another critic was Tim Montgomerie, the founder of ConservativeHome and the Centre for Social Justice, who praised a Daily Mail front page headlined “Soak the Strivers”, saying: “I certainly won’t be voting Conservative at the next election.”
Speaking earlier to broadcasters, Hunt denied that his economic strategy was un-Conservative, saying sound money was more important than low taxes.
“What I would say to my Conservative colleagues is there is nothing Conservative about spending money that you haven’t got,” he said. “There is nothing Conservative about not tackling inflation, there is nothing Conservative about ducking difficult decisions that put the economy on track.
“And we’ve done all of those things, and that is why this is a very Conservative package to make sure we sort out the economy.”
He was defended by some other Tory MPs, with Sir Charles Walker telling Times Radio that he did not “particularly like” the contents of the autumn statement but they were necessary because the Conservatives were “in a hole”.
“I won’t say good budget, because lots of people will be feeling very sore this morning,” he said. “But I think it was a necessary budget. And I think he delivered it with the gravitas that was required … It was a Conservative budget, despite what people are saying in the newspapers … it was a budget built around sound money and getting the public finances back into shape and getting this awful inflation down to manageable levels.”