The photograph, posted on Mr Sunak’s social media feeds at the moment the cut announced in Wednesday’s spring statement took effect, sparked incredulity among Twitter users.
Many did not believe that the chancellor – a former banker whose wife is a multimillionaire – would drive a Kia Rio, a modest family hatchback that retails from around £13,000 new.
One tweeted: “Sunak definitely pulled up in his Tesla and gave the person in the Kia Rio £500 so he could fill up their car for the photo op.”
And another wrote: “Sunak does not in any lifetime drive a Kia Rio, I fail to believe it. Another trying [to] impress and come across as a normal fella. A charlatan of the highest order, don’t fall for the spin and mirrors.”
The photo was one of 34 glossy and artfully staged snaps taken by a taxpayer-funded photographer and released on the Treasury Flickr feed to illustrate Mr Sunak’s spring statement on Wednesday.
Four showed the chancellor filling the shiny red car at the pump of a Sainsbury’s forecourt in New Cross, south London, his shirt sleeves rolled up to reveal a set of wristbands.
Others showed him apparently shopping inside the store.
It emerged today that the Kia car used for the photo shoot belonged to a Sainsbury’s employee, but The Independent understands that Mr Sunak paid for the petrol from his own pocket.
The picture was released on Twitter on the dot of 6pm, when the 5p cut in fuel duty came into effect, meaning that the chancellor must have missed out by moments on benefiting from his tax change, which would have saved him around £2-3 on the cost of a tankful.
There was further criticism after the chancellor was asked about the cost of essential items and said his family has a “whole range of breads” at home, as surging bills are set to bring about Britain’s worst fall in living standards since the 1950s.
Mr Sunak faced questions over his spring statement, which charities have warned offered little help for the hundreds of thousands of people who will sink into poverty as incomes are squeezed.
He was asked by BBC Breakfast which food he noticed was rising in price in the supermarket, as inflation looks set to approach 9 per cent this year.
When the presenter said that for her it was crisps, he laughed and replied: “I think bread, probably, is the thing. The one we buy I’m sure is now about £1.20, and it was about £1, from memory.”
Asked what kind of bread he buys, he replied: “It’s a Hovis kind of seeded thing. We have a whole range of different... we all have different breads in my house, a degree of healthiness between my wife, myself and my kids.”
The BBC journalist replied that she was also partial to a seeded loaf.
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