Whilst “Spreadsheet Phil” may have defied expectations in one area by cracking some of the better gags heard in the Commons over recent months during yesterday’s Budget, the content itself was thin and underwhelming.
By far the most controversial measure is the decision to increase National Insurance contributions for the self-employed; Class 4 NI contributions (a proportion of profits, paid when making a profit of more than £8,060 a year) will increase from 9% to 10% in April 2018, hitting 11% in 2019.
Traditionally, the lower contributions paid by the self-employed reflected the disparity in benefit entitlements when compared with those in employment.
However, the Treasury argues that the changes are necessary as the difference between benefit entitlements narrows, as well as the dramatic increase in the number of people officially classed as self-employed.
This has led to accusations that a manifesto commitment not to increase National Insurance has been broken.
Ministers insisted this promise related to the class of National Insurance paid by employees, not the self-employed, but it’s fairly explicit on page 7, and again on page 27, of the 2015 Conservative party manifesto: “A Conservative Government will not increase the rates of VAT, Income Tax or National Insurance in the next Parliament.”
Today’s front pages echo this sentiment. The Telegraph goes with “Tories break tax vow” whilst The Times calls it “Hammond’s £2bn tax raid”.
Of course, Hammond is likely banking on the fact that the vast majority of self-employed are unlikely to vote for Labour under its current leadership. And after Jeremy Corbyn’s performance at the despatch box yesterday, I can see why he’s willing to take that gamble.
The first official visit of a British royal to Israel could take place this year to make the 100th anniversary of the Balfour declaration which backed the establishment of a Jewish homeland. Several members of the royal family have visited Israel in a private capacity but an official visit would break with decades of precedent. The refusal to sanction a visit has long been seen as a rebuke of Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians but the Foreign Office is thought likely to accept this time around. (£)
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said that autumn 2018 would be a “common sense” date to hold a second independence referendum. Speaking to BBC Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg as part of a documentary on Brexit to be broadcast tonight, Sturgeon said the “window of when the outline of a UK deal becomes clear and the UK exiting the EU would be the common sense time for Scotland to have that choice” but did not rule anything out.
Donald Trump’s revised travel ban is to face its first legal challenge. A federal judge in Hawaii permitted the state’s attorney general to submit an amended suit that was previously lodged against the first, failed ban. The new executive order which the president signed on Monday and replaces the initial order issued on 27th January, bars entry for people from six Muslim-majority countries and seeks to alleviate previous complaints by offering exemptions to lawful permanent US residents and current visa holders.
Barcelona produced one of the greatest comebacks in football history last night. Trailing Paris St-German 4–0 after the first leg of the Champions League last-16 tie, the Catalan club scored three goals in the last seven minutes to win the tie 6–5 on aggregate and progress to the quarter finals.
BUSINESS AND ECONOMY
Ministers from 34 Commonwealth countries are in London today as part of an international trade meeting. International Trade Secretary Liam Fox hopes the event will bolster relationships and pave the way for talks on trade deals. However, there has been some disquiet in Whitehall about placing too much emphasis on former British colonies, with some mockingly calling the project “Empire 2.0” — something which is unlikely to be conducive to talks.
21st Century Fox has defended its £11.7 billion takeover of Sky, after Culture Secretary Karen Bradley suggested she may intervene in the deal. In a letter to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Jeffery Palker, Executive Vice President at 21st Century Fox rejected concerns about media plurality and broadcasting standards and expressed confidence that “the transaction will be approved based on an objective assessment of the facts.”
David Cummings, head of equities at Standard Life Investments, has left the company just four days after the merger with Aberdeen Asset Management was announced. He leaves with immediate effect “to pursue other interests” after 18 years at the group. There is speculation that Cummings did not approve of the merger, particularly the potential for consolidation of jobs. Stan Pearson, head of European equities, has assumed the role on an acting basis.
The FTSE 100 was down by 0.06% to 7,335, however, construction companies bucked the trend with the FTSE’s construction and materials index ending the day 0.3% higher.
Costain, the civil engineering firm, hit a record high during the course of the day, eventually finishing up 0.25%, while G4S climbed 8% after posting strong results.
It was a mixed day for insurance companies. Legal & General fell 2.12% whilst Admiral was up 1.67% despite reporting a fall in annual profits.
On the currency markets, the pound hit a 7-week low against the dollar, down 0.39% at $1.22. It also fell 0.18% against the euro to €1.15.
Aviva, Capita & Regional, Cineworld Group, Communisis, Cairn Homes, Charles Taylor, Countrywide, Domino’s Pizza Group, Impellam Group, Morrison (Wm) Supermarkets, Old Mutual, Ophir Energy, Premier Oil, Portmeirion Group, Restore, Secure Income Reit, Spirax-Sarco Engineering 32Red
Countrywide, Smith (DS)
88 Energy Limited (DI), Arden Partners
International Economic Announcements
(12:45) ECB Interest Rate (EU)
(13:30) Continuing Claims (US)
(13:30) Import and Export Price Indices (EU)
(13:30) Initial Jobless Claims (US)
COLUMNS OF NOTE
In The Times, Iain Martin calls on Theresa May to call an early general election as she would likely win the “thundering Commons majority” and a robust mandate to deliver Brexit. However, he concedes that this would be a “most un-Mayish course of action”. (£)
Writing in The Guardian, Simon Jenkins criticises Theresa May’s bid to bring back grammar schools, describing the move as incoherent, and politically and financially nonsensical.
DID YOU KNOW?
In a standard deck of cards, the King of Hearts is the only king that does not have a moustache.
House of Commons
Exiting the European Union, including Topical Questions
Leader of the House
Continuation of the Budget debate
House of Lords
Helping displaced minority communities in Iraq to return to their homes in areas liberated from Daesh — Bishop of Coventry
Impact on claimants of the time taken between applying for Universal Credit and receiving payments — Baroness Sherlock
Proportion of the UK’s Armed Forces to be deployed east of Suez — Lord Wallace of Saltaire
Effect of proposal to withdraw Housing Benefit from 18 to 21 year old and levels of homelessness — Lord Kennedy of Southwark
Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill — 2nd reading — Baroness Neville-Rolfe
Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill — Committee stage — Committee of the Whole House — Baroness Neville-Rolfe
Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill — Report stage — Baroness Neville-Rolfe
Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill — 3rd reading — Baroness Neville-Rolfe
Criminal Finances Bill — 2nd reading — Baroness Williams of Trafford
International Women’s Day — Baroness Shields
First Minister’s Questions
Members’ Business — S5M-03984 Adam Tomkins: Community Jobs in Scotland
Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Questions
Scottish Government Debate: Local Government Finance (Scotland) Order 2017 [draft]
Scottish Government Debate: Scotland’s Biodiversity
House of Commons
No business scheduled
House of Lords
Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence Bill — 2nd reading — Baroness Gale
Homelessness Reduction Bill — Committee stage — Committee of the Whole House — Lord Best
Parking Places (Variation of Charges) Bill — Committee stage — Committee of the Whole House — Baroness Redfern
Political Parties (Funding and Expenditure) Bill [HL] — 2nd reading — Lord Tyler
No business scheduled