Hammond's 'light at end of tunnel' a Brexit locomotive 'barrelling towards him'

Chancellor Philip Hammond's "light at the end of the tunnel" after a decade of austerity is in fact a Brexit locomotive "barrelling headlong towards him", MPs heard.

Mr Hammond hailed the first "sustained fall in debt for 17 years", expected to begin next year, as he laid out economic forecasts in his Spring Statement.

He told MPs that it marked "a turning point in the nation's recovery from the financial crisis of a decade ago" and there is now "light at the end of the tunnel".

However, former shadow chancellor Chris Leslie told MPs the light was more a Brexit locomotive that would leave a "train wreck in our public services".

He said: "The light that the Chancellor can see at the tunnel is the Brexit locomotive barrelling headlong towards him and our schools and our hospitals. What is he going to do to prevent that FTA-style scenario which his own Treasury officials say will leave a £55 billion train wreck in our public services?"

Mr Hammond said: "I am committed to a Brexit which protects British jobs, British businesses and British prosperity and I spend a very significant amount of my working time ensuring that is the route we follow."

Lib Dem former Scottish secretary Alistair Carmichael later added that there would be "no Brexit dividend" to support public services.

He said: "The OECD this morning published their own growth forecasts putting us at the bottom of the OECD economies with a forecast growth this year of 1.3%.

"I think it's pretty clear that there is no Brexit dividend on the scene for the British economy."

Mr Hammond said: "Our economy does still face uncertainty as we go through the negotiation process with the European Union.

"I am convinced from every conversation that I have with business leaders, with investors, that as we deliver greater clarity about our future arrangements over the coming months we will see business investment increasing, consumer confidence improving.

"We beat the forecast in 2017, let's beat it again in 2018."

Labour's Wes Streeting (Ilford North) later said it was astonishing that Brexit "which is the single biggest risk to the economy, merited only two sentences".

He called on Mr Hammond to explain why, if the economic outlook was "so rosy", almost every school in his constituency was facing budget cuts, his local NHS trust was in special measures and his constituents were "crying out" in the face of one of the worst waves of burglary seen, with the Met Police subject to real terms budget cuts.

He said: "Isn't that the grim reality facing our country and isn't it set to get worse because of the hard Brexit course his Government is following?"

Mr Hammond said the Government was pursuing a Brexit that protected British jobs, British businesses and British prosperity.

Tory Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) said the OBR assumed the Brexit dividend would be recycled into ordinary expenditure and asked if Mr Hammond accepted this conclusion, how he would spend the money and whether the NHS was near the top of his list.

Mr Hammond replied: "They have assumed that any saving from a lower contribution to the EU will be recycled to fund things that would have been funded by the EU but will no longer be so.

"Now how we choose to use that money, what our priorities are, will of course be an issue for this Parliament, although I would note to him that we've already made certain commitments, for example to our agricultural community to maintain the level of spending at EU levels until the end of this Parliament."

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