Pre-Budget briefings to press under fire from Speaker, opposition and Tory MPs

Sienna Rodgers
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Speaker Lindsay Hoyle has vowed to “do everything in my power” to ensure that ministers are called to the chamber to “explain themselves” if they continue to brief the media before bringing important announcements to the House of Commons.

A furious Hoyle suggested yesterday that ministers should resign after crucial parts of the Budget – such as an increase in the national minimum wage – were given to the press. He reminded the government today of the ministerial code.

“I’ve got to say, members are elected to this House to represent their constituents, those constituents quite rightly expect the MP to hear it first in order to be able to listen to what the Budget is about,” the Speaker said on Monday.

Labour’s Bridget Phillipson was granted an urgent question today on the subject. She asked for “a statement on the details of all the provisions in the upcoming Budget that have been made public in advance of the Chancellor’s statement”.

The minister responding, Simon Clarke rather than Rishi Sunak, replied that he had the “deepest respect” for the Speaker, the Commons and all its processes, and said the “ability of parliament to scrutinise the Budget is clearly crucial”.

He added: “Part of the government’s objective in trailing specific aspects of the Budget in advance is to help communicate to the public what we are doing with their hard-earned money. Because we believe there is merit in clear and accurate information.”

Phillipson in response highlighted that a full-time worker on the increased minimum wage will not be £1,000 better-off as claimed. She reiterated Labour’s calls for scrapping VAT on domestic energy bills for six months, and freezing and replacing business rates.

Tory backbenchers John Redwood, Desmond Swayne and Dr Julian Lewis joined the criticism of the government’s approach. Labour MP Clive Efford said: “This is the first Budget I’ve seen fall apart before Budget Day.”

There was considerable laughter from MPs from across the chamber when Simon Clarke, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said during the debate that he was “not going to comment on leaks”, despite much of the Budget having been leaked or announced.

The way that the government has released parts of the Budget to the press before Wednesday has allowed the announcements to be divorced from key pieces of context, such as MPs’ scrutiny and the Office for Budget Responsibility assessments.

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