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Why the Budget will prove difficult for Keir Starmer

W

e weren’t supposed to be having a Budget this week. When he was chancellor, Philip Hammond moved the annual event from the spring to autumn, which the Treasury has long thought is the right time for it, to allow time for legislation before the start of the tax year. Hammond’s successor, Sajid Javid, never got to make a Budget statement because the one planned for November 2019 was postponed because of the election. A few weeks before Javid was ready to try again, he was replaced with Rishi Sunak, who delivered a well-received Budget on 11 March last year – which was overtaken within days by the overwhelming coronavirus crisis.

Sunak delivered a series of emergency statements, each more momentous than the last, and each more fiscally significant than any peacetime Budget. At the time, it was innocently assumed that everything could start to return to normal in November last year: the Treasury could get back to having a Budget at the time of year when it wanted it, and Sunak would be able to set out the plan for returning to normal public finances.

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Instead, the government announced another lockdown and the Budget was downgraded to the “Spending Review”, with the “real” Budget decisions postponed until this month. It would be foolish to predict whether we will have a second Budget this November.