Boris Johnson faces Tory discontent over tax-raising plan

Prime minister aims to force £12bn health and social care levy through Commons in single day

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Monday 13 September 2021 20:07
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<p>Westminster Bridge and Parliament</p>

Westminster Bridge and Parliament

Boris Johnson will face more rumblings of discontent from Tory MPs as he looks to force his plans for a £12bn tax hike to pay for the NHS and social care through the House of Commons in a single day on Tuesday.

The prime minister’s plan has been blamed for a slump in the polls which saw Conservatives overhauled by Labour last week, and one backbench critic told The Independent that rebel numbers will be bolstered by the hostile reception to the proposed 1.25 per cent hike in national insurance contributions (NICs) for employers and employees.

But with just five Tory MPs opposing against the plan last Wednesday, Mr Johnson’s working majority of 83 is under little threat even if the rebels are joined by some of the 37 Conservatives who did not vote in last week’s division.

After securing cabinet approval for the new health and social care levy, Mr Johnson and chancellor Rishi Sunak denied opponents the time to foment a successful revolt against the plans by frogmarching MPs into a procedural vote the following day to approve the raising and spending of the money to fund the plan.

His decision to complete the approval of the new levy – which breaks a Tory manifesto commitment from the 2019 election – risks further stoking anger among backbenchers who fear voter anger over the tax rise could cost them their seats.

One Tory backbencher said: “There are many who voted with the government grudgingly last week who are now more unhappy about it because they have seen the overwhelmingly negative reaction from business and individuals who understand the risk of putting a tax on jobs at a time when we need to get the economy firing on all cylinders again.

“There are lots of people speaking to the chancellor behind the scenes about the need to get our low-tax reputation back, and I’d anticipate there will be more willing to vote against the plans now than there were last week.”

Last week’s vote means that the Commons is unable to amend the Health and Social Care Levy Bill to change the way the money is raised or spent, and despite Labour and Liberal Democrat opposition, Tory rebels are highly unlikely to muster the numbers needed to block the legislation on Tuesday.

Critics of the NICs hike were seeking to gather support around an amendment from Tory backbencher Marcus Fysh, which would allow cash raised by the levy to be spent on health and social care “in current or future years”.

The Yeovil MP told The Independent that this would give ministers the option of using some or all of the money raised from the new levy to encourage individuals to invest in insurance against future care needs, rather than being forced to spend it on the immediate requirements of the health and care system.

“The amendment would allow us to start having the conversation about what the best system is for the future,” said Mr Fysh. “It would mean that if future ministers want to create incentives for investment into some kind of modern insurance scheme, officials wouldn’t be able to tell them that the law bars them from doing that.”

Veteran Conservative MP Sir Peter Bottomley said there were flaws in Mr Johnson’s scheme, but that MPs were nonetheless likely to allow it to pass on Tuesday.

“What’s being proposed is not perfect, but doing nothing isn’t perfect either,” he said. “I would like to see a savings market for care needs develop, but that may have to wait for adaptations to the current scheme to be brought forward by this government or its successor.”

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