Boris Johnson has sidestepped calls from Labour to rule out tax rises for families and businesses in next week’s Budget.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer insisted “now is not the time” for tax increases given the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
But instead, Johnson took aim at previous Labour Party policy and Labour-run councils.
Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions, Sir Keir told the Commons: “Turning to next week’s Budget, now I don’t expect the prime minister to pre-empt what’s in the Budget. If I want that, I can read it on the front page of The Times.
“But can the prime minister at least agree with me today that now is not the time for tax rises for families and for businesses?”
Johnson responded: “The Budget is happening next week, it’s not a date that is concealed from (Sir Keir), he knows when it is… but it’s preposterous for him to talk about tax rises when he stood on a manifesto only a year ago, little over a year ago, to put up taxes by the biggest amount in the history of this country.
“It is the Labour Party, his Labour council in Camden, that puts up taxes across the country, that is the way Labour behave and it’s thanks to prudent fiscal management by this government that we’ve been able to fight this pandemic in the way that we have.”
Sir Keir also questioned whether Johnson thinks it is right for the Conservative council in his own Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency to raise council tax.
He said: “Councils up and down the country are being forced to decide now whether to put council tax up – that is a £2 billion rise on families.
“I’m not blaming councils, they’ve been starved of funding for a decade and Labour and Conservative councils are in the same position.
“For example, the prime minister might want to concentrate on his own constituency, his own council, Hillingdon, Conservative-run Hillingdon, is voting to increase council tax by 4.8%. Does the Prime Minister think that they are right to do that?”
The prime minister replied: “Hillingdon Council, in common with most Conservative councils, has been running lower council taxes than Labour up and down the country.
“He is completely wrong, I am going to correct him, the top 10 highest council taxing councils in this country are run by the Labour Party. And they are all going to put their taxes up except for one in those top 10 which is Burnley, which is currently in no overall control.”
Sir Keir went on: “This is another PMQs with yet again no answers.
“Next week’s Budget is a chance to choose a different path.
“To build a stronger future, to protect families, to give our key workers the pay rise they deserve and to back British businesses by supporting 100,000 new start-ups. Will the prime minister do so?”
Johnson replied: “If he’ll only wait until next week I think he’ll find that we’ll do far more than that paltry agenda that he set out, far more than that.”
He added: “He vacillates, we vaccinate – and we are going to get on with our agenda, cautious but irreversibly taking this country forward on a one-way road to freedom.”
Johnson later told MPs that chancellor Rishi Sunak is “looking very closely” at the findings of a beer duty review, amid calls to stop supermarkets undercutting pubs and brewers.
Conservative MP Giles Watling highlighted the difficulties faced by pubs in recent years, adding: “Part of the problem is undercutting by cheap supermarket booze.
“Now we’re out of the EU surely we can do as we please with beer duty. Differentiation in favour of on-sales could deliver great benefits to pubs in communities like Clacton, at nil cost to the taxpayer.
“Will (Johnson) commit ministers to look at this differentiation proposal?”
Johnson replied: “He makes an extremely good point, which I’m sure will be heard with great interest around the country.
“There is just such a review being carried out after consulting pub owners, brewers and others, and I know the chancellor is looking very closely at the findings.”