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UK's Truss drops divisive tax cut in policy U-turn

By EARLE GALE in London | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2022-10-04 07:51
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British Prime Minister Liz Truss and Chancellor of the Exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng visit Berkeley Modular, in Northfleet, Kent, Britain, September 23, 2022. [Photo/Agencies]

British Prime Minister Liz Truss and Chancellor of the Exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng have backtracked on their plan to abolish the nation's top income tax rate, after it triggered a devaluation of the pound and drew widespread criticism.

"It is clear that the abolition of the 45p (50 cents) tax rate has become a distraction," Kwarteng said. "We get it, and we have listened."

The climb-down followed widespread rumblings from lawmakers within the ruling Conservative Party, and near-unanimous condemnation from outside the party,following the plan's unveiling 10 days earlier, in the chancellor's"mini-budget".

Both Kwarteng and Truss had vociferously defended the tax cut,with the prime minister insisting on Sunday evening it would go ahead,but on Monday they conceded defeat.

Kwarteng told the BBC he was "in agreement" with Truss "that we wouldn't proceed".

He said on Radio 4's Today program he made the decision after talking to lawmakers and voters.

"It's about listening to people in the country and actually understanding where people are and actually having the humility to say: 'Look, we got this wrong and we're not going to proceed with the abolition of the rate.'"

He said he felt "humility and contrition" and was "happy to own it".

Protesters had rallied across Britain over the weekend, as opposition to the policies deepened. Demonstrators also gathered in Birmingham, where the annual Conservative Party Conference took place.

The proposed tax cut would have reduced the amount of tax paid by people earning more than 150,000 pounds ($168,000) a year and was attacked for helping high-earners at a time when many ordinary people are struggling with rampant inflation and an unprecedented cost-of-living crisis.

The Reuters news agency said it had sparked "a rebellion in (Truss') party and turmoil in financial markets".

The cut was part of a "growth plan" the government announced on Sept 23, which included other tax cuts and the removal of regulations,which the government said would stimulate the economy.

But the 45-billion-pound growth plan called for massive government borrowing, which spooked financial markets. It was also controversial because the government conceded it would require spending cuts to public services, and would not include increases in welfare payments in line with inflation.

Currency volatility

The resulting loss in the value of the pound, which slumped close to parity with the dollar before recovering to its pre-announcement level, caused the Bank of England to step in with a 65-billion-pound stimulus package.

The backtracking, while welcome, will have come too late for many people, the opposition Labour Party's shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, said, with families saddled with "higher mortgages and higher prices for years to come".

Political pundits said Truss and Kwarteng will now be under enormous pressure, just weeks after coming to power.

Agencies contributed to this story.

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