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Hammond holds Britain to ransom, McDonnell charges

The shadow chancellor criticises successive Tory governments’ records of slashing public services

JOHN McDONNELL accused Chancellor Philip Hammond today of threatening more financial pain for Britain if MPs do not accept Theresa May’s twice-rejected Brexit deal.

The shadow chancellor criticised successive Tory governments’ records of slashing public services funding and freezing benefits while having given “over £110 billion of tax cuts to the rich and corporations.”

Mr Hammond pledged spending £26.6bn to boost the economy if MPs vote to leave the EU with a deal.

“This is a calamitous strategy. It is forcing people into intransigent corners,” Mr McDonnell said in the Commons.

“Austerity was never a necessity, it was always a political choice.”

PM May’s Withdrawal Agreement was rejected for the second time last night by a 149-vote majority, however the deal could be returned to the Commons for a third vote.

Mr McDonnell accused Mr Hammond of shifting the responsibility of the economy on “the shoulders of head teachers, NHS managers, local councillors, police commissioners and, worst of all, onto the backs of many of the poorest in our society.”

Mr Hammond has also presided over a “pattern” of GDP growth downgrades by the Office of Budget Responsibility, he pointed out.

The government has boasted of a 1.2 per cent growth forecast this year, but Mr Hammond had omitted to mention that it had been downgraded from 1.6 per cent.

Economists have mainly attributed incremental growth to “consumption based upon high levels of household debt,” Mr McDonnell said.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) think tank criticised Mr Hammond for boasting of “lower borrowing and debt” but not increasing public spending.

IPPR associate director for work and welfare Clare McNeil said:  “Household debt is at a record high. The public are having to pick up the pieces from lower public spending, whether by providing more unpaid care, by having their benefits frozen while the cost of living rises, or — because of legal aid cuts — having to pay for their own defence costs.”

Women’s Budget Group director Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson said that Mr Hammond’s pledge to have sanitary products available for free in secondary schools would not help tackle the root causes of poverty.

She said: “Lone parents — the majority of whom are women — and their children will continue to be the hardest hit. The freeze won’t just make it hard to afford tampons and sanitary towels, it represents several months’ food bills for a poorer family.”

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation also condemned the government’s refusal to end the benefits freeze.

The freeze continuing for another year will leave families £560 worse off on average — equivalent to three months of food shopping for an average low-income family — the think tank said.

Chief executive Campbell Robb said: “The government can buy itself time by asking to extend Article 50 — working families can’t get an extension to meet the essential costs of family life.”

Unison said that the government was so consumed with its floundering Brexit plans that it was “unable to respond” to urgent pleas from schools, councils and hospitals.

General secretary Dave Prentis said: “The Chancellor’s statement will be swiftly forgotten, but the consequences of inaction will continue to scar communities for generations to come.”

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