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Spring Budget Preview

Wondering what to expect from the pre-election budget? As the Chancellor raids the Downing Street cupboards for a top hat and his aides race to the local pet shop for a new white rabbit, we’ve rounded up all the potential surprises and big announcements trailed and rumoured so far.


Welcome to the weekly roundup from Navigate Politics, bringing you all the top news, publications and movements from UK politics over the past seven days, ensuring you’re fully briefed on the top stories ahead of the weekend. If you know somebody who would find this briefing useful, please do forward it on so they can subscribe and get it direct to their inbox each Friday.


Spring Budget 2024 Preview 🚨


Chancellor Jeremy Hunt will deliver his Spring Budget 2024 to Parliament on Wednesday 6 March, accompanied by an economic and fiscal forecast from the Office for Budget Responsibility. The Chancellor is expected to use the Budget, which is likely to be the Conservatives’ final fiscal event before the general election, to cut national insurance, announce a new levy on vaping and extend the fuel duty freeze. His speech is due to begin around 1230 following PMQs, with a roundup of what to expect below:


National Insurance – The Chancellor is reportedly considering a cut in National Insurance rather than income tax, opting for a 1% cut at an annual cost of £4.5bn. Hunt had previously been weighing up a 2p cut in income tax but this is said to have been abandoned due to the £13.7bn a year cost.


Fuel duty – An extension of the fuel duty freeze at a cost of £1bn a year is due to be announced.


Housing – In a bid to help first-time buyers, reports last week indicated that the Chancellor is drawing up plans for a 99% mortgage scheme which would only require them to put down a 1% deposit on their first home, with the Government acting as a loan backer. However, Hunt is now reconsidering the plans after resistance from the banking community.


Child benefit threshold – Extending child benefit to hundreds of thousands of middle-income families could be announced, by either abolishing the High Income Child Benefit Charge (HICBC) or increasing the HICBC starting salary threshold.


Vaping – A ‘Vaping Products Levy’ to be paid on imports and by manufacturers is expected to be unveiled. The duty will be levied on the liquid in vapes, with higher levels of tax for products with more nicotine. Tobacco duty could also increase, to ensure that vaping remains a cheaper alternative.


Non-dom tax status – Scrapping the tax status enjoyed by people who live in the UK, but whose home for tax purposes is overseas is reportedly being explored.  


Tax-free shopping – At the beginning of February, the Chancellor asked the Office for Budget Responsibility to review whether the scrapping of VAT-free shopping for tourists should be reversed. The results are set to be published alongside the Budget.  


Cuts to stamp duty and inheritance tax are said to have been shelved, with the Government reconsidering these for an Autumn Statement or for the Conservative Party’s election manifesto.


The Ministry of Defence is also not expected to get extra funding in spite of military figures warning about the state of the Armed Forces.


Coming Up Next Week 📆


The Commons gears up for the Budget on Wednesday and subsequent week of debates, but Monday and Tuesday see debates on farming and the second reading of the Automated Vehicles Bill.


The Lords kicks off the week with what will be another highly charged debate on the Government’s illegal immigration policy as the Safety of Rwanda Bill returns for its report stage on Monday and Wednesday. This is supplemented throughout the week with debates on foreign affairs, regeneration, higher education and International Women’s Day.


World Book Day takes place on Thursday 7th March, when children across the country will be striding into school dressed as Hermione Grainger, Hercule Poirot or the tiger who came to tea. For the benefit of our regular You’ve Got To Laugh section, Navigate would like to ask those parliamentarians who receive this briefing to encourage as many of their colleagues to do the same this year. Top suggestions for 2024 include Professor Moriarty, Miss Trunchbull and Draco Malfoy.


International Women’s Day takes place on Friday 8th March, with the Lords sitting to debate the economic inclusion of women. Coming in the week after the damning report into historic employment practices in the Met Police, media attention is likely to refocus on the issue, with the Government expected to make further announcements on work being undertaken to increase the safety of women in society.


The Week in Stats 📉


126,100 – households bought their first home in the year up to 30 September 2023. In the same period, 164,630 households were made homeless.


39.7% – turnout for the Rochdale by-election and the vote share for the winning candidate, George Galloway.


£133m – has been issued in vouchers to customers under the Government’s Boiler Upgrade Scheme, with applications for heat pumps up 39% compared to January 2023.


70% – how much a care worker on a median salary in London would need to spend of their pre-tax income on rent.


2030 – when the NHS waiting lists should finally return to pre-pandemic levels, according to the IFS.


£21m – of Government support pledged to support seven projects making low carbon hydrogen.


8th – it has been the 8th wettest February in the UK since records began, and the warmest ever in England and Wales.


Other Political News 📰


Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle had another difficult week as he resumed his role in the chair following last week's events, with onlookers noting that he may have been letting a few more interjections through than he previously would have before he was accused of ‘undermining’ the House. Hoyle previously promised that he would allow the SNP to hold an emergency debate over a ceasefire in Gaza, but later retracted the promise, reasoning that the Government planned to make a statement on the issue the following day. SNP Westminster Leader Stephen Flynn responded that Hoyle had “broken the rules and now broke his word… not just to SNP MPs but the entire parliamentary chamber and indeed the public last Thursday.” Meanwhile, the Home Office responded to Hoyle’s reasoning for breaking convention (which – if you remember was because he feared for MPs' safety following the increase of threats regarding the situation in Gaza and not because his job was in jeopardy at the next election). Security Minister Tom Tugendhat delivered a statement announcing that the Government was allocating £31m to support the protection of elected officials. He noted that colleagues had reported threats and feelings of intimidation since October, and stressed “we must champion all voices in this country, and that includes all Muslim voices.”


Lee Anderson was suspended from the Conservative Party last weekend after he made comments that “Islamists” control London and London Mayor Sadiq Khan. After receiving backlash for the comments, Anderson refused to apologise, but called the comments “clumsy”. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak responded that he believed the comments were “wrong and unacceptable” but did not outright call them Islamophobic. Meanwhile, Khan responded that what Anderson said was ‘racist, Islamophobic, and anti-Muslim’. He also criticised Sunak for ‘refusing’ to call the statement ‘Islamophobic’ and for failing to mention anti-Muslim hatred in his statement on hatred in politics. In Anderson’s response to his suspension, he wrote that he understood ‘the difficult position’ he put the Prime Minister and Chief Whip, Simon Hart, in, and accepted they had ‘no option’, but that he would continue to ‘support the Government's efforts to call out extremism in all its forms - be that antisemitism or islamophobia.’ Reform UK Leader Richard Tice has left the door open for Anderson to join him, saying that while his words were clumsy, “his sentiments are supported by millions of British citizens, including myself.”


George Galloway will return to Parliament after winning Rochdale’s by-election as the Workers Party candidate, making this the third party he has been elected for in a Parliamentary election. The late Sir Tony Lloyd held the seat for Labour since 2017, winning a 9,668 majority at the 2019 general election. Azhar Ali was originally set to be Labour’s candidate but was later disowned and suspended by the party after comments Ali made about Israel. This led to Labour seeing a 43.9 point drop from 2019 in vote share, as Galloway won 39.7% of the votes. He was followed by David Tully (Independent) with 21.3%, the Conservatives on 12% and Ali (formerly Labour) on 7.7%. In his victory speech, Galloway stated that the win was “for Gaza”. Labour’s Deputy National Campaign Coordinator and MP Ellie Reeves apologised to Rochdale constituents, adding “If Labour stood, I don’t believe George Galloway would have won.”


Around the World 🌍


Donald Trump decimated Nikki Haley in South Carolina’s Republican primary, despite Haley being its former governor. He defeated her by a 20-point margin, although Haley refused to concede and vowed to continue to ‘Super Tuesday’ on 5 March, which will see primaries take place in 15 states. By failing to win her home state, Haley’s campaign is all but finished.


Meanwhile, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell announced he would stand down following November’s elections. He is the longest-serving Senate Republican leader, having led the party in the upper chamber for nearly 20 years. Despite supporting him as President, following the 2020 election he functionally broke ties with Donald Trump, and his resignation will mark the end of the last serious opposition to Trump inside the higher echelons of the Republican Party. He will remain in the Senate until his term ends in 2027.


Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko won sham elections in which no genuine opposition was present, handing himself a sixth term in office. Belarus’ last election in 2020 resulted in mass demonstrations and over 35,000 arrests, with the government undertaking a severe crackdown on dissent with the support of its ally, Russia. This year, there was little public opposition, although opposition leader in exile Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya urged voters to boycott the vote. Lukeshanko has since declared he will run again in 2028.


Cambodia held Senate elections, with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party winning 55 out of 58 seats. The outcome was never in doubt, as the vote is carried out by members of the National Assembly and local councillors, both of which the CPP dominates. The result paves the way for former Prime Minister Hun Sen, who stepped down in favour of his son last year, to become Senate President.


Sweden cleared the final obstacle to joining NATO when Hungary’s Parliament ratified its accession. Hungary had refused to sign off on Sweden’s accession due to its previous accusations of democratic backsliding in Hungary. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called it a ‘historic day for our alliance’.


The French senate voted overwhelmingly to enshrine the right to abortion in the constitution, voting in favour by 267 votes to 50. A joint vote involving both houses of parliament will take place on Monday, and if the proposal is approved by a three-fifths majority there will be no need to put it to a referendum.


Vladimir Putin delivered his annual state of the nation address, in which he warned the West not to send troops to Ukraine and insisted that an "absolute majority" of Russians supported his decision to invade. However, most of the two-hour long speech focused on domestic issues like taxation, pensions and increasing the birth rate.


Highlights from Parliament 🏛


It was a heavy week for defence and foreign policy in the Commons, as the Speaker granted a statement on the Red Sea on Monday, a statement from the FCDO on Israel/Gaza and a UQ on international supplies of military equipment to Ukraine on Tuesday, and an FCDO statement on Ukraine and a statement on the Defence Acquisition Plan on Wednesday (keep up). Throw in a UQ and statement on the Post Office and two statements from the Home Office on Thursday, and the nine UQs and statements this week left, to be honest, not much time for anything else. The Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill passed its third reading and is now making its way through the Lords, and… everyone’s favourite… the Pedicabs (London) Bill returned to the Commons on Wednesday, passing its second reading, moving to a Committee of the Whole House. Thursday’s Backbench Business debates surrounded language in politics on International Women’s Day and Welsh Affairs, whilst highlights from Westminster Hall this week included: impartiality of BBC news coverage, tackling obesity, the provision of cycle trails and digital exclusion.


Over in the Lords the Victims and Prisoners Bill and the Media Bill were debated this week, the former on its 6th day in committee and the latter passing its second reading. The focus on defence continued on Thursday, with questions on bringing sustainable peace in Ukraine, a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine, and the number of people displaced in Sudan and Darfur in the current conflict, alongside a short debate on AUKUS in Grand Committee. Thursday also saw debates on the effectiveness of the Windrush Compensation Scheme and the case for regulation in the water industry.


Committee Corridor 📜


There is still ‘much to learn’ from jurisdictions that have introduced assisted dying, concludes the Health and Social Care Committee in its report on the controversial topic. The Committee found that access and provision of palliative and end-of-life-care in the UK was ‘patchy’, calling on the Government to ensure universal coverage and to guarantee that support will be provided to any hospices which require funding assistance. It also highlighted that the UK Government should be ‘actively involved in discussions’ with the Isle of Man and Jersey, as both were currently considering assisted dying.


There are deficiencies in the rigour, completeness and credibility of reported Government savings, argues the Public Accounts Committee. While acknowledging that savings of over £6.8bn have been made so far, the Committee finds that the ‘Cabinet Office is not yet using them to their full potential to identify and report savings across Government.’ The report also warns against the risk of double-counting savings and emphasises the need for clearer guidance to avoid discrepancies.


Record low service levels at HMRC shows they are struggling to cope, reports the Public Accounts Committee in its second report of the week. A lack of resources to meet increases in the taxpayer population and the complexity of tax are cited as reasons for the 5-year decline in customer service levels, with 62.7% of callers now waiting over 10 minutes to speak to an adviser.


Benefits of the UK’s accession to the CPTPP for British businesses are likely to be ‘limited’, says the Lords International Agreements Committee’s latest report. The Committee found that the ‘economic gains of accession are limited’, and expressed concern about the extent to which business, particularly SMEs, will be able to take advantage of the agreement. It does however cite the ‘potential strategic advantages of greater engagement in the region’; and finds value in using the CPTPP as a ‘forum for cooperation with like-minded countries to discuss shared challenges in international trade’.


Protests are risking the police’s ability to deal with other priorities, finds the Home Affairs Committee. It highlights that protests about Israel and Gaza had led to over 4,000 rest days cancelled in a 3-month period, with ‘severe pressures’ placed on officers, predominantly in London. The report also noted that it was ‘too early to assess whether new powers provided to police in the Public Order Act 2023 to deal with disruptive protests are effective.’


The ‘catastrophe’ in Gaza will ‘continue to escalate’ unless there is a ‘lasting ceasefire’, warns the International Development Committee. It calls on the UK Government to make it an ‘absolute priority’ to get sufficient amounts of food into Gaza, and calls for serious allegations into UNWRA workers to be investigation and resolved.


Key Movements 🔁


George Galloway is the new MP for Rochdale, having won the by-election with a majority of 5,697.


Baroness Swinburne has been appointed a Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, with Baroness Penn going on Maternity Leave. In addition, Lord Offord of Garvel is now solely a Minister in the Department for Business and Trade, and no longer in the Scotland Office.


Dame June Raine announced that she will be stepping down as Chief Executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency in the Autumn.


Scottish Cabinet Secretary for the Wellbeing Economy, Net Zero and Energy Màiri McAllan said she would be taking maternity leave from this Summer.


Claire Lombardelli will succeed Ben Broadbent as the next Deputy Governor for Monetary Policy at the Bank of England.


Robert Gillespie has become Chairman of the UK Export Finance Board.


Fiona Dickie has been reappointed as the Pubs Code Adjudicator.


John Henderson begun his role as an Independent Member of the Committee on Standards Life.


This Week’s Polls 📊


People would rather pay more tax to support public services than pay less tax to their detriment, according to a Deltapoll survey carried out in advance of the Budget. The poll revealed that 62% of people would prefer to face increased taxes in order for the Government to spend more on health, education and social benefits, compared to just 18% who would rather a reduction in taxes with less spending on public services. Respondents also revealed that a drop in energy bills and a fall in the price of essentials in the shops are the two areas that would have the biggest impact on their lives over the next year.


Keir Starmer is seen to be more ‘in touch’ with ordinary people than Rishi Sunak, so finds the latest Ipsos Political Pulse. The poll revealed that Starmer led Sunak by 20% on understanding the problems facing Britain (47% to 27%), and he is regarded as being both more ‘in touch’ with ordinary people (35% to 16%) and a more capable leader (38% to 27%). However, the public are split on whether or not they are clear on what each leader stands for.


65% of Britons do not believe the current Government behaves to high ethical standards, according to Ipsos’ latest research commissioned by the Institute for Government. The polling also found that only 26% of people would trust a Conservative Government to behave according to high ethical standards if they won the next election, compared with 45% for a Labour Government.


Think-Tanking 💭


The Institute for Fiscal Studies published a report setting out the context for the Chancellor’s Budget next week, and a report on the past and future of NHS waiting lists in England.


The Resolution Foundation published a report on the impact of the cost of living crisis on household debt and a report on action to improve young people’s mental health, education and employment.


RUSI published a report on the reasons for limited transatlantic cooperation on China.


The Institute for Government published a report on strengthening the UK’s fiscal framework, and a report on rebuilding trust in public life.


The Henry Jackson Society published a report on a new transatlantic strategy for greater peace, stability and integration in the Middle East, and a report on what immigration policy might look like under a Labour government.


The Institute of Economic Affairs published a report on how to boost income mobility in the UK.


Policy Exchange published a report on how places of work can help to improve the health of the nation.


You’ve Got to Laugh 😂


!! PROFANITY WARNING !! With the return of Gladiators reaching 8.7m viewers in its opening episode, it is no surprise that the show has been the talk of the town, which naturally has led …some politics nerds to imagine what the show would be like if it were politicised. But wonder no more, this video of potential GladiaTories names gives a brilliant insight on what the show would be like if your favourite Cabinet member entered the ring.


The spot for you’ve got to laugh this week goes once again to the man who frequents this section of the roundup most often…. Matt Hancock. Thanks to the Times’ Patrick Kidd, we got an insight into the old boys club this week, as his report covers Hancock’s visit to Eton to deliver a talk on Tuesday. His talk started off, in what we imagine Hancock thought was a pretty strong opener, criticising old cabinet colleague Jacob Rees-Mogg. Unfortunately for Matt, when taking questions from the audience, he came up against a young man called Peter, who stands up to assure everyone, Matt included, that his father is indeed a great man in both public and private, “especially… as he has remained loyal to his wife”. No matter individual views on the Rees-Mogg family, you have to give it to Mogg Junior for this corker of a comeback, though it is pretty stupid of Hancock to deliver a speech at Eton expecting no one in the Rees-Mogg family to be there.


And from one Politician Reality TV Star to another, with the return of George Galloway in Westminster this week, it seems only right to bring this video back from his time on Celebrity Big Brother in 2006… with his election results making him quite literally the cat that got the cream today (Editors note: I’m sorry for the reminder that this video exists)…

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