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Tories warned not to claim Civil Service behind their Labour tax attack

Rishi Sunak repeatedly claimed Labour was plotting tax rises during the ITV debate with Sir Keir Starmer (Jonathan Hordle/ITV)
Rishi Sunak repeatedly claimed Labour was plotting tax rises during the ITV debate with Sir Keir Starmer (Jonathan Hordle/ITV)

Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives have defended their claim that Labour would impose £2,000 in tax rises as it emerged a senior Treasury official had warned them not to say civil servants were behind their central claim.

The Prime Minister repeatedly highlighted the claim during his ITV head-to-head debate with Sir Keir Starmer, claiming “independent Treasury officials” have costed Labour’s policies “and they amount to a £2,000 tax rise for everyone”.

But the Treasury’s permanent secretary James Bowler said ministers had been told not to suggest civil servants produced the figure at the heart of the Tory attack.

The claim comes from a document produced by the Conservatives which made a series of assumptions to estimate the cost that might be attached to potential Labour policies.

It claimed that the difference between the money that Labour would raise from its policies and the amount it would spend would be a deficit of £38.5 billion over four years, amounting to around £2,094 for every working household.

Some of the estimates in the document have been carried out by civil servants at the Treasury, using assumptions provided by politically appointed special advisers.

But Mr Bowler said the headline figure used by the Tories should not be attributed to impartial civil servants.

In a letter to Labour’s shadow Treasury chief secretary Darren Jones he said the £38.5 billion total for Labour policies in the Tory document “includes costs beyond those provided by the Civil Service”.

A letter sent by parliament secretary James Bowler to Darren Jones, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury
A letter sent by parliament secretary James Bowler to Darren Jones, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury (Labour Party/PA)

“Costings derived from other sources or produced by other organisations should not be presented as having been produced by the Civil Service,” he said in a letter to Mr Jones on June 3.

“I have reminded ministers and advisers that this should be the case.”

Mr Jones demanded an apology from Mr Sunak.

“Civil servants confirmed they had told Tory ministers they were not allowed to say their dodgy attacks on Labour were independently done by civil servants,” he said.

“Last night Rishi Sunak did it anyway. He lied to the British people. He must apologise.”

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(PA Graphics)

Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho repeated the claim on Wednesday, saying it was based on “official costings from the Treasury”.

She told BBC Breakfast: “I’ve worked in the Treasury and I can tell you that these are brilliant, independent civil servants and they would not be putting anything dodgy in there.”

On Times Radio Ms Coutinho even claimed “this is something which has been signed off by the permanent secretary of the Treasury”, adding “those costings have been done by independent Treasury civil servants”.

But shadow paymaster general Jonathan Ashworth said: “I feel that Rishi Sunak was exposed as desperate last night – desperately lying about Labour’s tax plans, making accusations about Labour’s tax plans which are categorically untrue – Labour will not put up income tax, will not put up national insurance, will not put up VAT.”

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Rishi Sunak was resorting to lying because he is desperate and what do desperate people do when in a corner? They lie.

“We saw it with Boris Johnson over parties in Downing Street in lockdown, and Rishi Sunak has exposed himself as no better and no different than Boris Johnson with his lies last night.”

Polls suggested neither Mr Sunak nor Sir Keir landed a knockout blow during the ITV clash on Tuesday night.

A snap poll from YouGov suggested the Prime Minister performed marginally better, with 51% making him the winner against 49% for Sir Keir among people who expressed a preference.

But a Savanta survey pointed to a more convincing victory for Sir Keir on 53%, ahead of Mr Sunak on 47%, excluding those who said they did not know.

Perhaps the most telling findings from the YouGov survey were that 62% found the ITV debate frustrating and just 17% found it a helpful exercise.

YouGov surveyed 1,657 GB adults on Tuesday, and Savanta surveyed 1,153 people who watched the debate after it concluded.

Campaigning on Wednesday will be low key as commemorations for the 80th anniversary of D-Day begin.

Both Mr Sunak and Sir Keir will attend the UK’s national commemoration event in Portsmouth alongside members of the royal family and armed forces veterans, before attention is focused across the Channel for further anniversary events in Normandy on Thursday.