Theresa May has been accused of refusing to accept that Brexit has caused a fall in the value of the pound and a squeeze in living standards.
It came as the Office for National Statistics said inflation hit its highest level in nearly four years in April at 2.7 per cent, as sterling’s weakness, electricity price hikes and rising air fare bumped up the cost of living. Inflation is now expected to rise as high as 3 per cent later in 2017.
In her first joint appearance with Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, during the general election campaign in East London, the Prime Minister outlined the “economic blackhole” in Labour’s manifesto which was released on Tuesday.
But during the press conference in Canary Wharf the Prime Minister also cast aside assertions that Brexit is to blame for the rising cost of living standards in Britain and the slide in the value of the pound since the referendum last June.
“If you look at what happened to sterling, sterling had started to fall back before the referendum came through,” Ms May said.
“So there have been adjustments to sterling. It isn’t just that sterling has gone down. We’ve seen currencies move around as currencies do.
“I didn’t say Brexit was responsible for the troubles that he had," she added. "I did say we had seen an impact on inflation from changes to currency over the last few months and that as everybody knows we’re going into a negotiation on Brexit in the next few years."
Tom Brake, the Liberal Democrat’s foreign affairs spokesperson, however, said the Prime Minister’s refusal to accept the economic impact of Brexit “could have come straight out of Nigel Farage’s mouth”.
He added: “The falling pound is already hitting wages and pushing up prices, but Theresa May doesn’t care. On top of that she is refusing to back her own Chancellor, one of the only Cabinet ministers left who accepts the economic risk posed by Brexit.
“People don’t have to accept an extreme version of Brexit that will permanently damage living standards.We will give you your say on the Brexit deal in a referendum, with the choice to remain in Europe if you don’t like the deal on offer.”
Chris Leslie, a former shadow minister and supporter of the Open Britain campaign group, said it is “absolutely clear” the Government’s “hard Brexit” is making working people worse off.
He added: “As wages shrink, prices are surging as the collapse in the value of the pound has pushed up the price of imported food, clothes and fuel.
Campbell Robb, the chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said while it is encouraging employment has reached a record high “even people in work are facing a tough time to make ends meet as a living standards squeeze takes hold".
He continued: “It is encouraging that employment continues to rise and has reached another record high. But even people who are in work are facing a tough time to make ends meet as a living standards squeeze takes hold.
“Inflation has crept higher, pay has fallen for the first time since 2014 and working-age benefits are frozen, meaning people on low incomes will feel the squeeze in their pockets.
“The challenge now for the next government is to build on record employment so work provides a route to economic security.
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