Coronavirus has ‘reached deep into our economy’, says Sunak in conference speech

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Chancellor Rishi Sunak said there are hard choices to come as he aims to balance the books in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

Mr Sunak said he could not continue to “borrow our way out of a hole”, speaking at the Conservative party conference.

Mr Sunak said: “This Government has never been blind to the difficult trade-offs and decisions coronavirus has forced upon on us.”

The changes to the economy cannot be ignored and no chancellor could protect every job or business, Mr Sunak said.

“The pain of knowing it only grows with each passing day,” he added.

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“So, I am committing myself to a single priority – to create, support and extend opportunity to as many people as I can.

“Because even if this moment is more difficult than any you have ever faced, even if it feels like there is no hope, I am telling you that there is, and that the overwhelming might of the British state will be placed at your service.”

The Chancellor and Prime Minister visited a renewable energy firm in central London together on Monday morning ahead of the speech and Mr Sunak praised Mr Johnson for being right on the “big calls”.

But Mr Sunak warned that the UK was only “part way through” the coronavirus outbreak, which had already reached “deep into our economy and society”.

The Government has already committed more than £190 billion for people, firms and services but elements of that support – including the furlough scheme which ends this month – are now being withdrawn.

Ministers have already set out plans to help people retrain or acquire new skills and Mr Sunak has extended financial support schemes for firms.

Balancing the books will either require spending cuts or tax rises in the future and Mr Sunak acknowledged there would have to be action in the medium term.

“We have a sacred responsibility to future generations to leave the public finances strong, and through careful management of our economy, this Conservative Government will always balance the books,” he said.

“If instead we argue there is no limit on what we can spend, that we can simply borrow our way out of any hole, what is the point in us?

“I have never pretended there is some easy cost-free answer. Hard choices are everywhere.”

Meanwhile, the Chancellor has defended his Eat Out to Help Out scheme which sought to encourage diners to return to restaurants and pubs with a state-backed discount.

At the weekend, Mr Johnson suggested the incentive “may have helped to spread the virus” and that its impact needed to be counteracted, with the country facing a second surge in positive Covid-19 cases.


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