Chancellor’s ‘cowardice’ to blame for economic woes, John McDonnell claims

Philip Hammond has “abdicated” his responsibility as Chancellor and his “cowardice” over Brexit is to blame for the poor economic outlook, John McDonnell has claimed.

The shadow chancellor tore into his opposite number’s record in office during a pre-Spring Statement speech at Bloomberg in central London.

He said Mr Hammond was “complicit in every cut, every closure, every preventable death of someone waiting for local hospital treatment or social care”.

“That will be this Chancellor’s legacy, whatever happens with the Brexit negotiations and votes,” he warned.

Mr McDonnell claimed slow economic growth, falling investment and firms announcing their intention to leave the UK were all avoidable were it not for the “political weakness and cowardice” of the Chancellor.

He said Mr Hammond’s “failure” to stand up for the economy and the interests of the country were to blame.

Mr McDonnell said: “The position of the Chancellor of the Exchequer comes with a responsibility which I think Philip Hammond actually has abdicated in his current role.

“If Brexit ends up leading to even half of what the Government’s own forecasts suggest could happen, I think history will judge harshly the few who could have prevented and averted this potential disaster and did so little.”

He said the “effects of their complicity” are already there, including the “slowest growth in six years, investment falling, manufacturing in recession, a trade deficit of over £10 billion last quarter, growth forecasts being revised downwards by the Bank of England and others … firms announcing their intentions to leave the UK”.

“I think all this was avoidable were it not for the political weakness and yes, these are strong words, the cowardice of the Chancellor of the Exchequer,” he said.

“Failure to stand up for our economy and failure to stand up for the interests of our country.

“And whatever happens with Brexit, that’s damage to people’s lives that cannot be undone.”

Opinion polls in 2019
(PA Graphics)

The Chancellor is due to deliver his Spring Statement to the Commons on Wednesday afternoon.

Mr McDonnell predicted the speech would include “warm words” about the need to avoid a no-deal Brexit.

He said while there may be more “rhetoric” about the end of austerity, there would be “nothing to relieve the suffering of millions out there today – or to prepare us for tomorrow”.

Mr McDonnell said: “This is a week where we say ‘no more’. Where we will lay bare the failures of this Government and the damage it has done to our society.

“But also where we will seek in Parliament a route through the Brexit chaos that the Government has created and an end to austerity once and for all.”

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