The Bank of England has raised interest rates by a half a percentage point to 5% as it intensifies its efforts to tackle stubbornly high inflation, adding to the strain on households struggling with soaring mortgage costs. At a PM Connect event this afternoon Rishi Sunak said that he was addressing the problem, and that he was “totally, 100% on it”. (See 2.31pm.) He also claimed he had a three-point plan to bring down inflation. (See 5.36pm.)
Sunak refused to say directly whether or not he agreed with conclusions of the privileges committee’s investigation into Boris Johnson, saying he wanted to “focus on the future”. (See 3.47pm.)
England’s chief medical officer, Sir Chris Whitty, said the UK “did not give sufficient thought” to stopping Covid in its tracks as he listed multiple problems with preparedness in his first cross-examination at the pandemic public inquiry.
Yesterday a reader asked if there was any chance of George Osborne and David Cameron being recalled to give evidence to the Covid inquiry, for futher questioning about their statements on austerity, and its impact on Covid. A spokesperson for the inquiry says witnesses can in theory be recalled at any time, but that because of the tight timetable they are trying to “avoid recalling witnesses within a module wherever possible”.
How Sunak explained his three-point plan to bring down inflation
In his Today programme interview James Cleverly this morning struggled to explain what the government’s plan was for tackling inflation. (See 9.26am.) In his speech this afternoon Rishi Sunak sought the tackle the same question head on, and he insisted that he did have a plan “to halve it on its way to getting it back down to 2% where it belongs”. He said his plan had three elements.
For the record, here is an extract from what he said about those three aspects of the plan.
The first is I’ve got to make sure government is doing everything that it needs to do and that means being responsible with our borrowing, because we cannot in a situation like this borrow too much money, because that just makes everything worse.
That means, much as I would love to, I’d love to cut your taxes tomorrow, you’d love that, I’d love that, of course I would, but that’s hard to do, because it means I’d have to borrow more money to do it.
Another thing is I can’t say yes to every single thing that people want me to spend more money on, because that would mean we’d have to borrow money to do all of that. That means I have to make some difficult choices, I have to prioritise, the same as all of you do in your household budgets, I have to do the same thing too.
It means when we’re trying to figure out how we pay all our fantastic public sector workers, I need to think about what’s affordable, what’s responsible, again so I can manage our borrowing …
Now, the second part of the plan is making sure we tackle all those areas where inflation is particularly bad. Energy is an obvious one. The bills that you’ve had to pay over the last year have been extraordinary. Absolutely extraordinary, never seen anything like it. Now, I’m pleased they’re going to be starting to come down …
We need to have more energy, so we are investing more in renewable energy like offshore wind, building new nuclear power stations, but also making sure that we get more energy here at home from the North Sea, more oil and gas, which we are going to need for the next few decades as we transition to a cleaner future, so we are investing in that too.
Food is another area where your weekly shop has gone up far too much in the past few months especially, so we are looking at the supermarkets, making sure that they are behaving responsibly and fairly when it comes to pricing all those products, to make sure we are easing the burdens on your weekly shop …
The third part of the plan is helping those who most need help through the worst of this. Now, how have we done that? Most importantly, we’ve helped with your energy bills.
Here is the Guardian’s obituary of Winnie Ewing. It is by Brian Wilson, the former Labour MP, who describes Ewing as “the most remarkable vote-winner in modern Scottish politics”.
Today’s Bank of England interest hike means that by the end of the year more than a million househholds (4% of all UK households) will run out of savings because of higher mortgage repayments, says the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR).
In an analysis, it says:
1.2 million households (4%) will run out of savings this year as a result of higher mortgage repayments: taking the total proportion of insolvent households to around 7.8 million (28%).
The rising repayments will cost households with mortgages a total of £1bn per month, or £12bn per year: worth around 0.3% of GDP.
Monthly mortgage repayments will rise by nearly 50% on average: this rise is above typical stress-tests households are subjected to when applying for a mortgage,
Fixed-rate monthly mortgage repayments will rise from around £700 to £1,000 on average: applying to nearly 2m households when needing to remortgage.
Variable-rate monthly mortgage repayments will rise from around £450 to £700: applying to 1.5m households on variable-rate mortgages.
The largest impact will be in Wales and the north-east: 6% of households in these regions will be insolvent as a direct result of rising mortgage repayments.
The thintank says the government should respond by funding forbearance agreements. It explains:
The government could consider intervening in forbearance agreements, which allow households to agree to create repayment plans based on what they can afford when they’re unable to repay their debt. During the pandemic, the US government provided loans to assist in forbearance agreements for federally backed mortgages. The UK also has a track record in guaranteeing mortgages for particular high-risk households. Some investment could be done in these forbearance agreements, giving households and lenders the ability to create payment plans that work for each other.
Vallance tells Covid inquiry proper pandemic planning should involve willingness to spend money on projects that might fail
Sir Patrick Vallance, the former government chief scientific adviser, gave evidence to the Covid inquiry this afternoon. Here are some of his main points.
Vallance said a reluctance to spend public money on projects that might fail was a handicap in pandemic planning. He explained:
When we started the vaccine taskforce, it was very possible, even likely, that it would fail. And at the end of it, of course, it was a great success, and the National Audit Office wrote a report saying what a great success.
If it had failed, the National Audit Office I suspect would have written a report saying what an outrageous waste of public money the whole thing was. And yet both things were totally possible.
And so there is an inherent reluctance to spend money on things which then might fail and look like a disastrous misuse of public money.
So I think we need to be much more explicit about why spending public money is important for certain things, even if nothing turns out not to be what’s needed or used.
He said that Covid papers from Sage (the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies), should have been published more quickly. As the pandemic went on, early publication became more common, but it was not the practice at the start. Vallance said this was a mistake. He said:
I think in principle, the science advice – unless it’s national security-related – should become public.
One of the things we learned early during the pandemic, prior to pandemic, the minutes and output from Sage only were published at the end of the process of Sage activation. And quite early on I was keen to try and get the papers out as soon as we could.
It took longer than it should have done for that to happen, and that is, I think, a regret – and one that if you have the processes sorted out in advance should not be a problem in the future.
In other words, you should get those papers out as quickly as you can.
He said the pandemic showed the importance of the UK having its own vaccine production capacity. He said:
When we started looking at vaccines in January 2020, it was obvious that the industrial vaccine base in the UK had pretty much gone.
Not the simple store research but the industrial base, and I don’t think that was an active decision.
It was what are called benign neglect, with very significant consequences – and that had to be reactivated quickly …
Don’t dream that you can have a vaccine factory sitting there waiting for a pandemic – it’s going to be staffed by people who don’t know how to make vaccines.
You need everyday activities that you can scale quickly and I think this is a part of resilience that needs to be thought through very carefully.
Sturgeon and Yousaf lead tributes following death of SNP trailblazer Winnie Ewing
Winnie Ewing, the former Scottish National party MP, MEP and MSP widely regarded as one of the movement’s most inspirational figures, has died aged 93. Flags at the Scottish parliament were lowered in her honour.
Ewing famously won the Hamilton byelection in 1967 to become the SNP’s first female MP, a breakthrough which marked the party’s arrival as a political force. When she arrived at the House of Commons, she stated: “Stop the world, Scotland wants to get on.”
Serving too as an MEP, when she became known as Madame Ecosse, and an MSP for the Highlands and Islands, she was something of a political matriarch: her son Fergus was a Scottish government minister and is now a backbench MSP; her daughter Annabelle has been an MP and MSP, and is now a deputy presiding officer at Holyrood.
Fergus Ewing’s late wife Margaret twice served as an SNP MP before becoming MSP for Moray.
Nicola Sturgeon, the former SNP leader and first minister, tweeted that Scotland had lost one of its “foremost patriots and champions”. She said:
Heartbroken by this news. I can’t begin to convey the depth of gratitude I feel for the advice, wisdom, encouragement and inspiration Winnie gave me and so many others over the years. She was a master of the art of campaigning and it was a privilege to learn from her.
And Humza Yousaf, Sturgeon’s successor, said:
No words can truly capture the unique and unparalleled contribution that Winnie made to Scotland and Scottish politics. Her work over many decades – including in the UK, European and Scottish parliaments – shaped the modern nation we have today.
Without Winnie – without her breakthrough byelection victory in Hamilton in 1967, her dedication to the cause of Scottish independence, and her promotion of Scotland’s interests in Europe over many years – the SNP would never have achieved the success we have, and self-government for Scotland would never have become the priority it did.
In a statement, Ewing’s family said:
Mrs Ewing, generally considered the most important Scottish politician of her generation, served as an MP, MEP and MSP, and was the first presiding officer of the reconvened Scottish parliament in 1999.
She sparked the revival of the SNP’s fortunes, which continue to this day, with her victory in the Hamilton byelection of 1967.
Mrs Ewing died on Wednesday surrounded by her family.
'We've got to focus on future' – how Sunak dodged question about whether he agrees with report saying Johnson lied to MPs
This is what Rishi Sunak said when asked by ITV’s Robert Peston if he agreed with the privileges committee’s report into Boris Johnson. He replied:
I have enormous respect for the privileges committee, support the privileges committee and indeed respect the vote of the house that we had on Monday regarding Boris Johnson.
But what I’d also say is that I’m not focused on the past. I want to look forward. Boris Johnson is no longer a member of parliament.
It’s right that people, whoever they are, whatever position they hold, face the results of their actions, that are held accountable for their actions. That’s happened. He’s no longer a member of parliament.
We’ve got to focus on the future. And that’s what I’m doing as your prime minister …
I wasn’t there to vote because I was at a charity dinner, as you know, but I am someone who took a very difficult decision a while ago to resign from Boris Johnson’s government.
It’s not an easy thing to do to resign as being chancellor. That’s kind of a big deal. I did that because, as I said at the time, I disagreed with his approach to government.
So that tells you that I’m prepared to act according to my values and the standards that I want to see, and that wasn’t happening.
I said I didn’t agree with the approach. I said that in my resignation letter, and that’s why I resigned.
Afterwards Peston said he felt Rishi Sunak had finally come off the fence.
It is true that, in saying he had “enormous respect” for the privileges committee, Sunak was going a bit further than the line the No 10 press office has been using most of this week, when it said the committee had Sunak’s “full support”. The line about Johnson being held accountable for his actions also implied that Johnson got what he deserved.
But Sunak still would not say he agreed with the privileges committee’s report, despite his protestations only a few minutes earlier about the importance of “being straight” with people. (See 2.38pm.) And “we’ve got to focus on the future” was the ultimate non-answer. He is still dodging the question.
Robert Hutton from the Critic says this was a mistake because eventually Sunak will have to say he thought Johnson lied to MPs.
My colleague Rafael Behr agrees.
Rishi Sunak did not take a question from the Guardian during his Q&A with the media. It is not unusual for news organisations deemed unsupportive to be low on the list when questions are assigned, and Sunak may have been hoping for a more helpful question when he called Tom Harwood from GB News.
But Harwood asked if the fact that the Conservatives are distributing leaflets in the Uxbridge and South Ruislip byelection attacking plans to build 300,000 homes meant the government was no longer committed to this target itself. And he asked if some of Sunak’s own policies had contributed to inflation.
In response, Sunak ignored both points and just attacked Labour. (See 3.03pm.) Harwood was not impressed.
Sunak plays down prospect of tax cuts this year
Q: Is there no chance of major tax cuts this year?
Sunak says he would love to cut taxes. But borrowing lots of money to cut tax is not going to help anyone, he says. He goes on:
If I just gave into the easy thing every time, that would just mean more and more government borrowing, that just puts fuel on the fire of inflation and makes it worse, makes it last longer, means interest rates would go up even more. And that’s not going to do anyone any favours.
And you talk about tax cuts. You know what the biggest tax cut that this government could deliver for you and for everyone else is? To halve inflation. That is a massive tax cut, because it is inflation right now that is making everyone poor.
And that’s it. That’s the end of the Q&A.
Q: Has the Bank of England done too little, too late to deal with inflation?
Sunak says he supports the Bank. Countries around the world are facing these problems. In Europe interest rates are the highest they have been for 20 years.
He says there are no shortcuts.
Q: [From the BBC’s Chris Mason] Isn’t it the case that for some people things won’t be all right?
Sunak says he never said this would be easy. But he is determined to get inflation down. Inflation hurts those on the lowest incomes, he says.
It won’t be easy, and it will take time. But that is what responsible leadership is like.
Sunak claims Labour policy would make the economic situation worse. They would borrow huge amounts of money. But increasing borrowing would “make the situation worse”, he says.
He says Labour has ruled out more oil exploration in the UK. He says that would be a mistake. It would be “absurd” not to use the supplies available in the UK. Cutting off our own supplies of energy would be a “shortsighted policy”, he says.
And on pay, he says he also thinks Labour’s policy is wrong. Labour would borrow money to give people high pay awards. But that would just drive inflation up, and that would result in the pay rises they were getting being swallowed up, he says.
Sunak says 'standards matter' – but again refuses to say if he agrees with privilege committee findings about Boris Johnson
Q: You have talked about trust. Do you agree with the privileges committee report into Boris Johnson?
Sunak says he has enormous respect for the privileges committee’s, supports it, and respects the vote in the Commons.
But he does not want to focus on the past. He is focused on the future, he says.
He did not vote because he was at a charity dinner, he says. But he resigned as chancellor from Johnson’s government. He did that because he disagreed with his approach. That shows he is willing to act in accordance with values and standards. “I think standards matter,” he says.
Sunak says inflation partly higher than forecast because economy did not got into recession as expected
Sunak is now taking media questions. He does not sound keen.
Q: [From ITV’s Robert Peston] Is recession a price worth paying to get inflation down?
Sunak says people expected the economy go to into recession this year. That did not happen. That is partly why the inflation challenge is harder, he says.
He says halving inflation is the right priority.
Q: How will you reform the apprenticeship levy?
Sunak says the government is letting big companies use their apprenticeship levy money on companies in their supply chains, if they are not using the money themselves.
He says this is an idea that came out of conversations with businesses.
Q: What are the core values that inform your leadership style?
The questioner says he is with people on an Ikea leadership programme.
Sunak asks the Ikea staff on the programme what their values are.
Three of them answer.
Sunak says integrity is important for political leadership. He says people should be able to trust politicians.
That is why he is honest with people. He says he wants to be straight with people about problems, not “sugar-coating” things.
He says it also means delivering.
He is not going to promise the earth. He has set out his priorities. He will be held account, in six months, a year, 18 months.
Q: How do we ensure that public procurement now benefits British firms?
Sunak says the government can do that now because it has left the EU. It can value things like whether firms are employing apprentices when contracts are awarded.
He says this will help small and medium-sized businesses in particular. Large firms are already well placed to win contracts.
Sunak is now taking questions from workers at the Ikea plant where he is speaking.
Q: What are you going to do about the NHS? My family members are waiting longer and longer to see a doctor.
Sunak says cutting waiting lists is one of his five priorities.
That is because of Covid, he says.
During the pandemic, people who could not get treatment are coming back. That is why backlogs are so big.
He says he is holding meetings on this almost every week.
That means “more doctors, more nurses, more ambulances, and then being a bit clever about how we do things”.
He says ambulance times are improving. At Christmas people were waiting an hour and a half for a serious call. Now that is down to halve an hour.
Sunak says he is getting government borrowing under control. That means taking difficult decisions.
For example, he cannot cut taxes now, he says, even though he would like to.
He runs through the policies he is pursuing.
And he ends his speech saying he wants to be honest with people about the challenges ahead.
UPDATE: Sunak said:
We are on it and we are going to get through it.
Now that’s not easy, as I said, and anyone tells you that it’s easy or can happen overnight, they’re not being straight with you.
I want to be honest with you, these things are tough. They require difficult decisions, but that’s what you should get from your government. That’s what you should get from your prime minister, and that’s what I’m going to do.
Sunak says he made tackling inflation one of his top priorities.
Tackling it won’t be easy, he says. It will require “difficult decisions”.
Why did I set it as my top priority? It’s pretty simple. It’s because inflation eats into the pounds in your pocket. It’s as simple as that. It makes us everybody poorer, makes prices go up. It means your savings get eroded. It puts jobs and livelihoods at risk. And that’s why it’s so important that we target it and get it down.
Sunak says he is 'totally, 100% on it' and, in battle against inflation, 'we are going to get through this'
Rishi Sunak is speaking in Kent now at at PM Connect event.
He starts by referring to the interest rate increase. He says he knows people will be anxious about what is happening. He goes on:
I’m here to tell you that I am totally, 100% on it. And it is going to be OK and we are going to get through this and that is the most important thing I wanted to let you know today.
Starmer claims UK 'always gets hit hardest' by global economic factors under Tories
Keir Starmer was interviewed by Matt Chorley on Times Radio earlier. Here are the key points.
Starmer claimed the UK “always gets hit hardest” by global economic factors under the Tories. He said:
I think, of course, there’s no quick fix. We’ve got to be honest about that. There is inflation across the world, there are global factors. But this country always gets hit hardest, whether it’s mortgage rates, interest rates, energy prices, food prices.
And, you know, if we’re going to be honest, we have to ask why is it? Why is the UK getting hit harder than other countries.
There is no way of answering that without looking at the 13 years of very low growth we’ve had in this country, the disastrous effects of the mini budget under Lis Truss last year, which made a bad situation a lot worse, and the failure to do the fundamentals when it came to energy.
So we didn’t do the installation of homes, so bills are higher than they should be. We didn’t go towards renewables, we banned onshore wind, we haven’t moved forward with nuclear. There are issues that mean that we are more exposed than others.
Starmer did not mention Brexit as a factor.
He did not rule out travelling by helicopter himself if he became prime minister, but he suggested Rishi Sunak’s use of helicopters was excessive. He said:
I’m not saying the prime minister should never travel by helicopter. I do understand it’s a heavy schedule. Of course I do. But to use it when you really don’t need to, and it sends a signal to I think many, many working people that you just don’t get it. You don’t understand what we’re going through.
He claimed he had no “developed plan” to flood the House of Lords with Labour peers to get his legislation passed. Asked about reports that Labour is planning to put dozens of peers in the Lords, he replied:
Look, there is a mismatch at the moment. We’ve got far less peers than the Conservatives and obviously we need to get the business of government through. But this is not some developed plan. I literally have not discussed it with anyone.
I am taking these quotes from a Times Radio press release. Like many news organisations, the Times uses a transcription service (probably Otter, the one most widely used by journalists). But the press release was sent out without proper checking. The phrase “the disastrous effects of the mini budget under Liz Truss” was written in the press release as “the disastrous effects of the mini budget under less trust”, which, as an error, somehow seems appropriate.
Whitty says more thought should have been given to how to stop Covid-type pandemic, not just how to deal with its effects
Here are some more lines from Prof Sir Chris Whitty’s evidence to the Covid inquiry this morning.
Whitty said it would have been hard for advisers to start making contingency plans for lockdown, with being asked to by politicians, because that was such a radical proposal. He said:
The very big new idea was the idea of a lockdown … I’m talking here very, very specifically about the state saying people have to go home and stay at home, except under very limited circumstances, a very radical thing to do.
I would have thought it would be very surprising – without this being requested by a senior politician or similar – that a scientific committee would venture in between emergencies into that kind of extraordinarily major social intervention, with huge economic and social impact ramifications.
So, that’s my point – is that it is very difficult for the committees to go beyond a certain level unless they are asked to do so externally.
He said he agreed that pandemic planning should have focused more on trying to stop a pandemic, as well as focusing on dealing with its consequences. He said:
I certainly agree that we did not give sufficient thought to what we could do to stop, in its tracks, a pandemic on the scale of Covid, or indeed any other pathogen that could realistically go there.
I do think, on the other hand, it is sensible to have a plan for ‘if everything fails, what are we going to do we do?
We do still need to be able to say: ‘Let’s go to the top of the range, actually, we could end up with 750,000 people dying, where are we going to bury bodies?’
These are important, they may seem morbid, but they are practically important … in this sense, I do think a plan is important.
He said he did not accept that people were not thinking about a possible non-flu pandemic. He said that, although government documents implied the focus was disproportionately on the flu risk, it was important to differentiate between documents and thinking. He explained:
If you think about Nervtag [the new and emerging respiratory virus threats advisory group], it was explicitly designed to cover non-influenza risks. Certainly, my own thinking is not in any way limited to influenza.
I don’t think it would be correct to say that no one was thinking about anything other than influenza. There were only documents about influenza, that’s slightly different, and, in reality, when I looked at this document at the beginning of the Covid pandemic, I did not feel the document gave me much that was of any great use.
Penny Mordaunt says Boris Johnson's wrongdoing not serious enough to merit his exclusion from privy council
Penny Mordaunt, the leader of the Commons, has declined to back calls for Boris Johnson to be removed from the privy council.
But, speaking during questions on next week’s business in the Commons, she said she understood why some people felt he should have that honour removed.
Mordaunt was speaking in response to a question from the Lib Dem MP Wera Hobhouse, who said Johnson should lose his status as a privy counsellor following the Commons vote approving a report saying he lied to MPs. Hobhouse said:
We must send a clear signal that there is no place in British politics or in public life for someone who has no regard for standards. If we do not do so, we risk opening the door to people seeking to emulate Boris Johnson in the years to come.
Mordaunt, who was one of the few government ministers who voted to approve the privileges committee report, said she understood why Hobhouse felt strongly about that. But she went on:
Where people have been booted off the privy council, the threshold for that is much higher than the situation we were discussing on Monday, for example someone committing financial fraud.
So I would say to her, I understand where she’s coming from and her motivation, the integrity in all of these systems is very important, as I spoke about on Monday, but I don’t think this is an appropriate course of action in this instance.
Mordaunt also said that, if someone were to be removed from the privy council, that would have to be on the basis of advice submitted by the PM to the king. And she said that she thought it was best to keep the king out of controversies like that.
In recent years, when people have left the privy council, normally it has been at their own request, having been found guilty of a serious criminal offence.
Otherwise being a privy counsellor is an honour that lasts for life. Most of those appointed to the privy council are senior politicians. Although in theory they are all advisers to the king, in practice only serving ministers attend privy council meetings, where minor bits of legislation (orders in council) are agreed.
Sunak says meeting his inflation target now 'more challenging' but he is 'throwing everything we have at it'
Rishi Sunak has told the Times CEO summit that meeting his pledge to halve inflation has become “more challenging” but he is “throwing everything we have” at it, Steven Swinford reports.
Anyone listening to the James Cleverly interview this morning (see 9.26am) will have concluded that the government’s “everything we have locker” is quite empty. No 10 sought to counter that impression with a Twitter thread posted under Sunak’s name earlier. It starts here.
UPDATE: Sunak said:
The reason interest rates are going up is because inflation is too high and we’ve got to bring it down.
This is something that makes everybody poorer, that’s what inflation does.
That’s why we’ve got to grip it, we’ve got to reduce it and interest rates are a part of that.
Now, I always said this would be hard and clearly it’s got harder over the past few months but it’s important that we do do that.
The government is going to remain steadfast in its course and stick to its plan to do that.
Sunak's personal ratings fall following his much-criticised response to privileges committee report into Boris Johnson
Rishi Sunak’s personal ratings have taken a significant hit in the aftermath of the Commons vote on the privileges committee report into Boris Johnson.
Sunak was widely criticised for his response to the report, which was published a week today. He refused to say whether or not he agreed with its findings, arguing that it would be improper to say anything that might influence MPs ahead of the free vote on Monday. Since Monday’s vote, Sunak has still refused to give any clear steer as to his thinking on this issue.
On the basis of polling conducted on Tuesday and Wednesday, YouGov says Sunak’s favourability ratings have fallen by six points as a result, while Keir Starmer’s are up by nine points. In his write-up for YouGov, Matthew Smith says:
YouGov’s latest favourability survey finds Rishi Sunak has taken a 6pt hit to his net favourability ratings, falling to -34 since last week.
Currently only 27% of Britons have a favourable view of the prime minister, compared to 61% who have an unfavourable view.
While recent economic news has been bad for Sunak, with mortgage travails covering the front pages in recent days, it is likely that the reputational damage has been caused primarily by his response to the privileges committee report which found that Boris Johnson had knowingly misled parliament about Covid rule breaches in Downing Street.
Our poll earlier this week found that 57% of Britons believe Sunak handled this badly, and Sunak’s 6pt net favourability drop is matched by an 8pt net decrease for Boris Johnson over the same time period (to -52).
Whitty said there was 'good reason' for pandemic planning being heavily focused on flu risk
Back at the Covid inquiry, Prof Sir Chris Whitty was asked if it was true that there was a “longstanding bias” in pandemic planning in favour of a flu pandemic.
Whitty said that that was the case, but he said there was a “good reason” for this.
That statement is true, for good reason. I don’t think that means that other things were not considered. And the reason for this is simply that we’ve had many more influenza pandemics. Anyone who’s born after 1950 would have lived through three of them.
Only 18% of leave voters think Brexit has been a success, poll finds
Only 18% of 2016 leave voters believe Brexit has been a success, according to polling for the thinktank UK in a Changing Europe – but 61% think it will turn out well in the end, Heather Stewart reports.
Starmer says next month will feel 'a lot worse' for people because of rising costs
Keir Starmer has said that next month will feel “a lot worse” for people because of rising costs.
Speaking at the Times’ CEO summit, before the Bank of England announced its interest rate hike, he said that his own household had already been affected by rising mortgage costs over the past 12 months and that he expected today’s announcement to affect him too.
There would be “a real problem” for those struggling to make ends meet, he said.
Next month is going to feel a lot worse than it feels now, and as many people have said to me, if you’ve got only the mortgage going up, that might be bearable, but it’s alongside the energy bills going up, the food bill going up.
Echoing what Rachel Reeves said this morning, Starmer also said there were “problems” with the government subsidising mortgage, as proposed by the Liberal Democrats with their mortgage protection fund. Starmer said:
There’s no answer to this that doesn’t go with economic stability.
Bank of England raises interest rates by a half point to 5%
The Bank of England has raised interest rates by a half point to 5% as it intensifies its efforts to tackle stubbornly high inflation, adding to the strain on households struggling with soaring mortgage costs, Richard Partington reports.
Whitty says 'extremely concerning' threats to expert advisers during Covid could undermine future disaster planning
Back at the Covid inquiry, Prof Sir Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, says Britain has a strong network in place providing scientific advice to government for emergencies.
But he says there are two potential threats to this.
First, he says, universities are becoming more “hawkish”, which means they may be less willing to spare academics for this sort of work.
Second, he says, the amount of abuse, and in some cases threats, levelled at experts during Covid was “extremely concerning”, he says. He says society should be firm in saying how much it appreciates the work of these experts. Usually they are acting unpaid, he says.
Sunak urges Britons to 'hold nerve' on economy, saying he is confident his plan can deliver
Rishi Sunak has posted a thread on Twitter setting out what the government is doing to help people with the cost of living. It starts here.
He ends by saying “if we can hold our nerve” he is confident the plan will deliver.
Hugo Keith KC, lead counsel for the inquiry, is questioning Whitty.
He starts by stressing that he will not be asking today about the government’s response to the pandemic. Those are matters for the future.
Instead he will ask about the structures in place, he says.
Prof Sir Chris Whitty says he is assisted by an office of the chief medical officer. He has about 12 people working for him in that office, he says.
It expanded up to about 19 people during the pandemic.
That was the right size for the job he was being asked to do, which was advisory, he says.
Chris Whitty gives evidence to Covid inquiry
Prof Sir Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, has just started giving evidence to the Covid inquiry.
At this stage the inquiry is just taking evidence on “resilience and preparedness”, and so his evidence today will cover how ready the UK was for a pandemic. It will not focus on what happened after Covid hit.
There is a live feed here.
James Cleverly is not the only politician who has recorded an interview out today they would rather forget. My colleague John Harris has been to Somerton and Frome in Somerset, where there will be a byelection on 20 July following the resignation of the Tory, David Warburton. (The Uxbridge and South Ruislip, and Selby and Ainsty byelections are on the same day.) The Lib Dems held Somerton and Frome until 2015, and so their candidate, Sarah Dyke, is favourite to win.
But when John interviewed her for a Politics Weekly podcast about the byelection, he found she had difficulty answering policy questions on topics like mortgages and housing. Eventually she terminated the interview, saying she wasn’t prepared for it.
You can listen to the interview, and the whole podcast, here.
A reader has asked for an explanation of what “core inflation” is. It is a concept that came up a lot Amol Rajan’s interview with James Cleverly this morning. (See 9.26am.)
Here is a definition from the Office for National Statistics.
Certain classes of goods and services within an aggregate price index are considered very prone to short-term supply-side shocks or strong seasonal movements, such as energy and food. Many National Statistics Institutes around the world publish estimates of inflation excluding these specific classes, which they typically label as ‘core inflation’. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) publishes 13 exclusion-based estimates of inflation, although the specific measure excluding energy, food, alcohol, and tobacco is the one we typically refer to as ‘core’.
The ONS figures out yesterday put the headline rate of inflation (CPI – the consumer price index) at 8.7% in May. And core inflation was at 7.1% in May, the highest rate since 1992, up from 6.8% in April.
This Guardian graphic shows why the rise in core inflation is causing concern.
The Centre for Policy Studies, a conservative thinktank, has criticised Labour’s plan to require lenders to offer mortgage holders the chance to move to interest-only mortgages, or to extend the term of the loan. In a statement Tom Clougherty, the CPS’s research director, said:
Labour’s plan mostly “requires” lenders to do a variety of things they will already be doing voluntarily, because they understand the pressures their customers are facing and don’t want people to lose their homes unavoidably.
But direct intervention of this sort can still have big unintended consequences. To the extent that it forces banks to offer greater cross-subsidies to particular customers, it is bound to raise costs for other borrowers – or prevent necessary adjustments in the mortgage market from taking place.
It is much better to leave banks to work things out with borrowers. A legislated, one-size-fits-all approach is bound to cause as many problems as it solves.
When Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, was asked what Labour would do to combat inflation, she told the Today programme this morning that her priority was to help those struggling the most. She said:
My priority with the inflation we’ve got at the moment is to give immediate support to those who are struggling the most.
That’s why we would extend the windfall tax, that’s why we’ve set out this mortgage plan, the best thing that government can do, and what I would be doing as chancellor, is providing the economic stability and not undermining the independent economic institutions.
One of the reasons we are in this mess is because of the conservative mini-budget but also because, at that time, undermining the independent Office for Budget Responsibility, the independent Bank of England, and the sacking of the permanent secretary of the Treasury.
I will respect those economic institutions who provide the economic stability which in the end is essential for low and stable inflation and a growing economy all of which we’ve missed out on in the last 13 years under the Conservatives.
Matt Hancock, the former health secretary, and Nicola Sturgeon, the former Scottish first minister, are among the witnesses who will be giving evidence to the Covid inquiry next week, it has announced this morning. Hancock will appear on Tuesday morning and Sturgeon on Thursday morning.
Rachel Reeves says Labour will not pay subsidies to people struggling with high mortgage costs
Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, has ruled out Labour backing plans for subsidies or financial support for mortgage holders, as struggling homeowners brace for another interest rate rise, PA Media reports. PA says:
The Bank of England is widely expected to raise interest rates for the 13th time in a row but the shadow chancellor rejected calls from some quarters for direct financial help for homeowners hit by rising rates.
Banks would instead be forced to help mortgage holders struggling with payments under Labour plans, with the opposition urging the government to compel lenders to allow borrowers to temporarily switch to interest-only payments or lengthen their mortgage period.
Banks would also have to wait at least six months before starting repossession proceedings as part of the party’s five-point plan amid growing pressure on the government to respond to the crisis.
The Liberal Democrats have called for an emergency mortgage protection fund paid for by a reversal of tax cuts for big banks but Reeves warned that such measures could worsen the fiscal situation.
“I recognise the challenge of inflation, and a big fiscal injection of cash into the economy, especially an untargeted injection, would not be the right approach,” Reeves told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Kiran Stacey has more on Labour’s plans to help people deal with higher mortgage payments here.
Foreign secretary James Cleverly struggles to explain what government is doing to reduce inflation
Good morning. At noon the Bank of England is expected to raise interest rates for the 13th time in a row. Economists are forecasting a rise of at least a quarter of one percentage point, from 4.5% to 4.75%, but some of them believe there is a chance of a half-point increase, taking the rate to 5%, its highest level since April 2008.
Graeme Wearden is covering the buildup to this decision in detail on his business live blog.
Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer are both speaking in public today, and they will be under pressure to explain what they would do to tackle inflation. It remains stubbornly high, and that explains why the Bank keeps pressing the interest rate pedal. They will be hoping they do a better job than James Cleverly, the foreign secretary, who struggled in an interview this morning to explain what the PM was doing to halve inflation (one of his five pledges).
Asked by Amol Rajan on the Today programme what the plan was, Cleverly started by talking about Ukraine, which is part of his brief, and said that resolving the conflict would bring down energy prices. He also mentioned making the economy more productive, and creating more apprenticeships. Unimpressed by the waffle, Rajan took him back to the question. This was how the exchange went. It was excruciating listening.,
AR: The things you mentioned are not part of core inflation. If you look at core inflation, it’s very clear … that the UK has got a bigger problem with inflation than other countries. And if you strip out those things that you mentioned, which are volatile, like food and energy prices, core inflation in this country is different to other countries. It’s going up. I just want to know what the prime minister’s plan is to do about it. Because influencing apprenticeships isn’t really going to affect inflation in the short term.
JC: Look, we recognise that you have to deal with things in the short, medium and long term.
AR: So what is the plan in the short term to reduce inflation from the prime minister?
JC: As I say, the point is, with things like driving down the implications of food and fuel …
AR: I’m asking you about core inflation … The prime minister has said cutting inflation is a top priority. What is the prime minister’s short term plan for reducing inflation?
JC: One of the main vehicles for short term addressing inflation is interest rates …
AR: The prime minister does not control that. So what’s he going to do?
JC: The point is, not all the levers of control are in the government’s hands … We set inflation targets for the Bank of England, the Bank of England sets interest rates in response to those inflation targets. We do what we can do to try and address the issues over which we have direct control …
AR: Millions of our listeners are really concerned about inflation. We’ve established that inflation in this country is going up, core inflation, and the prime minister has made it a priority to reduce inflation … So in terms of what this country’s prime minister is doing immediately to reduce inflation, what is it?
JC: What we are doing is making sure that in the areas where we do have control – for example, one of the reasons why we have been thoughtful but cautious on public sector pay awards is we know that is one of those things that adds inflationary pressures. We’re very conscious that increased government borrowing is one of those things that loops around and increases inflationary pressures. That’s why we were standing firm on these things and that is in stark comparison with the Labour party, for example, who are talking about a massive borrowing spree and talking about well above inflation pay rises, all of which would have increased inflationary pressures.
Here is the agenda for the day.
10am: Sir Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, gives evidence to the Covid inquiry. In the afternoon Sir Patrick Vallance, the former chief scientific adviser, gives evidence.
11.25am: Keir Starmer speaks at the Times’ CEO summit. At 12pm he will be interviewed on Times Radio.
11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.
Noon: The Bank of England announces its latest interest rate decision.
Noon: Humza Yousaf, Scotland’s first minister, takes questions at Holyrood.
12.35am: Rishi Sunak speaks at the Times’ CEO summit.
2.15pm: Sunak holds a PM Connect Q&A in Kent.
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