UK Politics

Lib Dems: Blame Brexit for Budget gloom

Tim Farron Image copyright EPA

The Lib Dems say the government's pursuit of a "hard Brexit" is to blame for a lack of funding for the NHS, social care and schools in the Budget.

Leader Tim Farron said the decision to leave the European single market and customs union had come at a cost.

He also accused the chancellor of taking business for granted with his plans to hike National Insurance contributions for the self employed.

"Everything today was overshadowed by a massive Brexit black hole," he said.

Speaking after Chancellor Philip Hammond unveiled his first and last spring Budget, Mr Farron said: "I think the obvious thing from this Budget is you can't have well-funded health services, social care, education... with a hard Brexit.

"If you choose to leave the single market and the customs union, which was not on the ballot paper, then there is a cost.

"And that cost is £100bn extra borrowing and a £60bn war-chest to pay for the loss of trade in income and tax receipts relating to a hard Brexit."

During his Commons statement, Mr Hammond promised to help firms hit by business rate rises - but was accused of breaking the Conservative manifesto by increasing national insurance for self-employed people.

'Dreadful opposition'

Mr Farron accused Mr Hammond of launching "an attack on business", claiming he had merely offered "a sticking plaster" of relief to those who are going to be hit by business rate increases, adding that the impact of National Insurance rises on self-employed people would be "immense".

He said one in four people working in his Westmorland and Lonsdale constituency was self employed. "It'll be a huge blow to them," he told the BBC.

"It seems to me we've got a government now that thinks it can take business for granted because it's got a dreadful opposition that doesn't keep them on their toes."

He said Mr Hammond's announcement of an extra £2bn for under-pressure social care services in England "sounded good until he said it was over three years".

"We need something like £4bn for health and social care every year as a minimum, so it's very poor - but it's a reminder of what limited room for manoeuvre he's got," he said.

'Gimmickry'

"We're at the mercy of the international money markets - one of the reasons is we've chosen to sever our ties from of the world's biggest and most powerful markets - which is the one just 20 miles across the English Channel."

But he hailed the chancellor's plans to blur the lines between academic and vocational educational qualifications with the introduction of "T-levels" as "a long sought goal" he shared with Mr Hammond.

"The problem that we have in all of this is it's new gimmickry and new words and new slogans that don't mean much difference from what we've had in the past - replacing qualifications that already have a good brand recognition with employers," he said.

He also warned against focusing cash on grammar schools and free schools, which he described as "a complete diversion from the real job of giving teachers the tools to teach our kids".

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