The final budget before the UK leaves the European Union was an excellent moment for Philip Hammond to demonstrate to the world, amidst the drumbeat of negativity, that the British economy will thrive outside the EU.
This House of Commons set-piece was also an important opportunity, with global economic dangers on the rise, for the Chancellor to build on the recent improvement in the public finances by locking in fiscal strength.
Unfortunately, Hammond did neither. The Chancellor talked repeatedly about “fiscal responsibility”, yet this budget amounted to an epic spending giveaway. He claimed repeatedly to be building “a Britain we can be proud of” – but said precisely nothing about the UK taking advantage of new-found freedoms outside the EU.
Nor, did Hammond explain, with Brussels watching closely and as our EU negotiations enter their most heated phase, how Britain will cope under the “no deal” Brexit that now looks increasingly likely. This was, to my mind, an astonishing omission.
After all, “a negotiation that you’re not prepared to walk away from is not a negotiation — it’s surrender, all give and not get”, as Tony Abbott, the former Prime Minister of Australia, remarked last week. “It’s pretty hard for Britain’s friends here in Australia,” he said, “to make sense of the mess that’s being made of Brexit”.
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