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COVID-19: Next month’s budget is a ‘fork in the road’ for the UK, Sir Keir Starmer warns

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Next month’s budget is a “fork in the road” for the UK and should be treated as an almost post-war moment to forge a “new partnership” between business and government, according to Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.

Ahead of Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s financial statement on 3 March, Sir Keir will set out a post-COVID challenge to “go forward to a future that is going to look utterly unlike the past”.

He will use a speech on Thursday to reiterate his view that Britain faces a period similar to the Second World War, following which the welfare state and NHS were created.

And he will accuse the government of offering only “a roadmap to yesterday” in its post-pandemic response.

Sir Keir’s speech, which will include new economic policies, comes off the back of recent speculation about his performance as Labour leader after 10 months in the role.

A major policy blitz has been expected from Sir Keir following internal concerns about Labour’s direction under his leadership.

It was recently reported that Sir Keir’s team have turned to Lord Mandelson – one of the founders of New Labour who once declared he was “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich as long as they pay their taxes” – in order to help craft the party’s message to businesses.

In Thursday’s speech, to be delivered via Zoom, Sir Keir will set out Labour’s stance ahead of the budget in two weeks’ time.

“We can go back to the same insecure and unequal economy that has been so cruelly exposed by the virus or we can seize this moment and go forward to a future that is going to look utterly unlike the past,” he is expected to say.

“That choice will define the budget and it will define the next election.”

The Labour leader will add that now is “a moment to think again about the country that we want to be”.

“A call to arms – like the Beveridge Report was in the 1940s,” he will say. “A chance to diagnose the condition of Britain and to start the process of putting it right.”

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak poses with the red budget box outside his office in Downing Street in London, Britain March 11, 2020. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
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Chancellor Rishi Sunak will deliver his budget on 3 March

In an attempt to win voters’ trust on the economy – an area in which Labour trail the Conservatives – Sir Keir will say, under his leadership, Labour’s priority “will always be financial responsibility” and “to invest wisely and not to spend money we can’t afford”.

But he will argue the coronavirus pandemic, following on from years of austerity in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, has “shifted the axis” on economic policy on “both what is necessary and what is possible”.

“The age in which government did little but collect and distribute revenue is over,” he will add.

“The mistakes of the last decade have made sure of that. I believe people are now looking for more from their government – like they were after the Second World War.”

Sir Keir will call for immediate support for families and businesses at the budget, including the retention of the £20 per week uplift to Universal Credit; an extension of the business rate holiday and VAT cut for hospitality and leisure; and funding for local councils to prevent a “council tax bombshell”.

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Labour said Sir Keir’s speech will also set out new policies aimed at providing long-term security to the economy, support for entrepreneurs and offering people “a proper stake in Britain’s future”.

And the Labour leader will call for a “new partnership” between “an active state and enterprising business.”

In an attack on the Tories, he will add: “Despite the scale of the moment, all we can expect from this government is more of the same: a roadmap to yesterday.”

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