The Telegraph 2024-03-06 10:30:33

Live Chancellor ‘could be planning surprise income tax cut’

A cut to income tax could be Jeremy Hunt’s Budget surprise, it has been claimed as speculation mounts over what the Chancellor will announce this afternoon. 

Mr Hunt will announce a 2p cut to National Insurance in a move which will save the average worker £450. 

But there are questions this morning in Westminster over whether that will be the centrepiece of the Budget or if Mr Hunt will have a larger rabbit to pull out of his hat. 

One Cabinet minister told Politico that they expected Mr Hunt to also cut income tax by 1p, on top of the 2p cut to National Insurance. 

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Super Tuesday as it happened: Trump and Biden march towards rematch

Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump swept to victory in statewide nominating contests across the country on Super Tuesday, all but confirming a historic rematch in November’s general election.

Mr Trump brushed aside Nikki Haley to win the Republican vote in a dozen states, including the biggest prizes of the night, California and Texas, which have the largest number of delegates.

Ms Haley, Mr Trump’s last remaining rival, denied the former president a clean sweep by clinching a narrow victory in Vermont, but she no longer has a viable path to the nomination. 

After a commanding performance across 15 states where more than a third of Republican delegates were up for grabs, Trump had all but clinched his third consecutive presidential nomination.

About a third of Democratic delegates were up for grabs tonight with President Biden easing to victory in all states eligible to vote in November’s presidential election. His only hiccup came in American Samoa, a tiny US territory in the South Pacific Ocean, where the president was defeated by previously unknown candidate Jason Palmer.

Both Mr Trump and Mr Biden trained their focus on each other as the results became clear. In a victory speech delivered at his Mar-A-Lago estate in Florida, Mr Trump focused on Mr Biden’s immigration policies and called him the “worst president” in history. In a statement, Mr Biden cast Mr Trump as a threat to democracy.

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Live No apology needed for leaked British military secrets, says German ambassador

Germany has “no need to apologise” for the release of a video call that accidentally leaked details of British “troops on the ground” in Ukraine, the country’s ambassador to the UK has said. 

Miguel Berger said that the leak was “a Russian hybrid attack” that aimed to “destabilise the West”, and that some reactions helped to achieve Russia’s aims. 

“We have to be careful not to fall into the Russian trap of creating division and regrettably some media and some people have fallen into this trap,” he told the BBC’s Today programme. 

In the leaked video call, the head of the German air force said Britain has “a few people on the ground [operating] in reachback” – a military term that suggests units deployed deep into Ukraine.

Military experts warned that the revelations put British troops at risk, as their role on the ground was previously assumed to be limited.

Former British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has hit out at the leak, saying that the incident demonstrated Germany was “neither secure nor reliable”.

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‘Scandalous’ pothole repair lasts only nine days before crumbling

A pothole repair lasted only nine days before it crumbled, a council has admitted.

Pete Munro, a plumber and resident of Three Oaks, in East Sussex, took a picture of the freshly Tarmacked surface soon after council contractors had filled in the pothole.

As an experiment, he went back to the spot two days later to take a comparative picture – which showed that large cracks had already started to appear.

The 49-year-old returned again three days later to find even more cracks and a small hole in the repair. On his final visit, nine days after the job was completed, he found the hole had deteriorated and reported it for repair again.

Mr Munro said the episode was an indictment of the state of Britain’s broken and neglected roads.

Last month, the RAC revealed that local council road maintenance in England dropped by 45 per cent last year compared with five years ago.

There were almost 630,000 potholes reported to local authorities across the country, costing drivers as much as £500 million in repair bills.

Residents called the repair job “scandalous” and accused council officials of “pouring taxpayers’ money down a bottomless pothole”.

Mr Munro said he often walks around the village to look for potholes to report to East Sussex county council. On his last visit, he counted 19 that needed logging.

He said: “Ironically, the pothole on Moor Lane I took photos of was not on that list. I saw some contractors repairing this pothole. It took them less than a minute to do.

“A couple of hours after they left, I went and took a picture. At that moment I thought this would be a good opportunity to see how long the repairs last for. I just had a feeling this one wasn’t going to last long.

“It’s a shambles. They can’t be repairing potholes properly because they are failing so quickly, and the contractors have to go back and fill them in again. They are chasing their tails. It’s no wonder why there are so many potholes in our roads.”

Mr Munro posted his photos on social media and wrote: “This is a permanent pothole repair between Three Oaks and Westfield. We will never have safe roads while ESCC [East Sussex county council] allows our roads to be repaired like this.”

In reply, Guy Harris, from nearby Rye, wrote: “This is a powerful commentary. It’s a painful display of our money being poured into a bottomless pothole.”

A spokesman for East Sussex county council’s highways department said: “We are aware of the failed repair on Moor Lane, which was identified through our regular quality inspections. Whilst it is regrettable that this pothole repair has failed, we have instructed our contractor to return and carry out a more substantial repair.”

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Hotel shampoo bottles and restaurant sauce sachets to be banned as part of EU green drive

Sachets of sauce and small bottles of shampoo will be banned from European restaurants and hotels after a deal was struck to ban single-use plastics in the EU.

Belgium, negotiating on behalf of EU member states, reached provisional agreement with the European Parliament on the law to cut packaging waste late on Monday.

Negotiators agreed on packaging waste reduction targets of 5 per cent by 2030, and 15 per cent by 2040, with a commitment that all packaging should be recyclable by 2030.

They also agreed that empty space should make up no more than half of packaged goods, a move intended to stop the use of oversized boxes for online deliveries.

From Jan 1 2030, mini shampoo bottles will not be allowed in hotels and neither will plastic shrink wrap around suitcases in airports.

Restaurants will be banned from offering sauces such as ketchup and mayonnaise in plastic sachets, unless they are takeaways.

‘Forever chemicals’ to be prohibited

The ban will also apply to single-use plastic items such as disposable plates, cups and boxes used by fast food restaurants, and lightweight bags, such as those offered in markets for groceries.

There will also be a ban on “forever chemicals” (per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances or PFASs) in food contact packaging.

The deal comes after the European Commission called for a revamp of packaging rules in 2022. Packaging waste has grown by more than 20 per cent in the EU over the last decade and each European generates almost 419lb of packaging waste per year.

The targets will not apply to very small businesses.

But the agreement still needs approval from the European Parliament and EU governments, and that is not guaranteed as EU green rules come under increasing pressure from Right-wing parties.

Conservative forces have argued they are too burdensome during the cost of living crisis.

A UK ban on some single-use plastics came into force in October last year. It banned, among other items, single-use plastic cutlery, balloon sticks, polystyrene cups and food containers in England. As things stand, the EU ban goes further and covers more items.

European legislation will apply in Northern Ireland

The European legislation will apply in Northern Ireland, which continues to follow more than 300 EU rules as part of post-Brexit trading arrangements, unless a majority in Stormont attempts to block it.

“The UK does have some single-use plastic bans in place but overall progress is slower than the EU,” said Paula Chin, senior policy adviser at WWF UK.

“We want to see more ambitious legislation to drive greater waste prevention through eco-design and enabling reuse and refill systems for many packaged products.”

A Defra spokesman said the UK had introduced one of the world’s toughest bans on microbeads and a plastic packaging tax, as well as “far reaching bans and restrictions on polluting single-use plastics, including cutlery, balloon sticks, polystyrene cups and food containers”.

“We continue to work with industry and international partners to tackle plastic pollution and meet our environmental targets,” he said.

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Dan Wootton leaves GB News to launch independent show

Dan Wootton, the TV presenter, has left GB News to launch his own independent platform, he has said.

Wootton, 40, announced on X, formerly Twitter, that he was leaving the channel in the wake of a “chilling” Ofcom report, released on Monday, which found that Laurence Fox’s misogynistic comments on his show broke broadcasting rules.

Fox asked: “Who would want to shag that?” about journalist Ava Evans on the channel’s Dan Wootton Tonight show during an episode on Sept 26.

Fox and Wootton, who both later apologised, were suspended by the channel after the broadcast, which received 8,867 complaints. Fox was later sacked by GB News.

Wootton said in his statement: “I have left GB News to launch my own independent Outspoken platform which will, from later this year, feature a brand new daily news and opinion show that will NOT be regulated by Ofcommunist censors.”

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The clues that could point to a May general election

Does Jonathan Ashworth know something that Tory MPs don’t? On Tuesday, Labour’s shadow paymaster general bet Kay Burley, the Sky News presenter, £10 that the general election will be in May.

He said the Conservatives were “planning for that” – and he is not alone in believing that Rishi Sunak has been bluffing with his references to an autumn election.

Jeremy Hunt’s Budget speech on Wednesday might well ramp up speculation of an early election still further if he drops any hints about changing fiscal rules in a future manifesto.

Those who read the tea leaves in Westminster have already seen clues this week that a May election might be on the cards.

On Monday, it emerged that March 13 has been set aside for the legislation that would be needed for a National Insurance cut. Parliamentary timetablers have been told that the entire Bill must be passed in one day, suggesting that someone is in a hurry.

Add to this the fact that the Government wants to pass its landmark Rwanda Bill this month, possibly in the week starting March 18.

If it got the Rwanda Bill through Parliament by the end of that week, there would still be time – just – to announce a general election to be held on May 2, the same day as the local elections, dissolve Parliament and still have a clear 25 working days for the election campaign.

Plans for a May election would certainly help to explain why the Treasury has been so relaxed about giving away what will surely be the biggest announcement in Wednesday’s Budget, a 2p cut to National Insurance.

In the run-up to most budgets, the Treasury plays a cat and mouse game with news organisations, with journalists desperately trying to find out what the Chancellor is planning while the Treasury leaks a few smaller policies in order to control the news agenda.

One of the unwritten rules is that the Treasury tends not to pre-announce or confirm its biggest moves in order to maintain an element of anticipation, and keeps back at least one “rabbit in the hat” to grab public attention on the day itself.

In confirming that the Chancellor will announce the 2p National Insurance cut on Wednesday, the Treasury seems to have surrendered any element of surprise and in doing so dampened Mr Hunt’s squib.

It is, of course, possible that he will still surprise us all with an unexpected tax cut elsewhere – to stamp duty or inheritance tax, perhaps – which would explain the Treasury’s laid-back attitude to confirming the NI cut a day early (though there appears to be little to no room in Treasury coffers for any other major cuts).

But what if the rabbit in the hat is a nod and a wink of an early election?

Part of the reason Mr Hunt is so constrained when it comes to tax-cutting is that he will need to satisfy the Office for Budget Responsibility that he can balance the books. Just ask Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng what happens if you try to leave the OBR out of the equation.

Tory MPs are complaining that the unelected OBR, rather than the Chancellor, now writes the Budget. Any suggestion from Mr Hunt that the Tories might pledge to reform or replace the OBR in a future manifesto would only increase speculation of an election around the corner.

Cooler heads will make the point that an early March Budget, rather than pointing to an early election, leaves the option of fitting in a mini-Budget later in the year before an autumn election.

There are also huge logistical problems in trying to call an election for May. For example, the selection process for Conservative candidates in some seats has not even been advertised yet, let alone begun, meaning that it would have to be rushed through.

Is it possible that could happen? Mr Ashworth clearly thinks so.

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