As coronovirus-related deaths and cases mount in the UK, chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a package of measures worth £30 billion to tackle and deal with the challenge, insisting that like Brexit, the Boris Johnson government “gets things done”.
The budget speech telecast live from the House of Commons to millions presented a rare visual: behind 39-year-old Sunak sat Johnson, flanked by home secretary Priti Patel and attorney-general Suella Fernandes, reflecting a new high in multicultural Britain. Some saw Sunak’s confident performance peppered with some jokes as a ‘leadership audition.’
Opening the speech with measures to deal with the virus, Sunak said: “I know how worried people are… what everyone needs to know is we are doing everything we can to keep this country and our people healthy and financially secure. This is an issue above party.”
Sunak abolished ‘tampon tax’ on women’s sanitary products and allocated billions of pounds to infrastructure and various sectors, indicating the end of decade-long austerity initiated by the David Cameron-led coalition government in 2010, marked by deep funding cuts.
The budget announcement was preceded by the Bank of England cutting interest rates in an emergency move to bolster the economy during the coronavirus outbreak, from 0.75 per cent to 0.25 per cent, amounting to a historic low.
Bank of England governor Mark Carney said: “This is a big package. It is a big deal. It will have real economic effects, but also acting across the world and in a coordinated manner with the government in a way that makes it clear that we are going to bridge a situation, as opposed to allowing it to be turned into something worse.”
Besides incentives to the high export revenue earning Scotch whisky industry, Sunak’s populist announcements included cancelling a planned rise in beer duty and freezing duties for cider and wine. Business rate discount for pubs this year will be £5,000, up from £1,000.