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Rishi Sunak ‘in Cabinet row over extra Universal Credit cash’

Downing Street has insisted it is ‘not the right and proper moment’ to decide if a £20-a-week Universal Credit increase should be kept in place after Boris Johnson told Tory MPs to abstain on a crunch Labour vote tonight.  

The Government rolled-out the extra cash last year to help families through the coronavirus pandemic but the policy is due to expire in April. 

The Prime Minister’s Press Secretary, Allegra Stratton, said this lunchtime that a firm decision has not yet been taken on whether the increased payments will be extended. 

She said Chancellor Rishi Sunak will ‘come forward when he thinks the time is right’ to deliver a final verdict, with ministers having hinted that moment will be the Budget on March 3. 

Labour will try to force a symbolic vote on keeping the payments this evening after holding an opposition day debate on the matter.  

But Downing Street has labelled the move a ‘political stunt’, with Mr Johnson telling Conservative MPs to abstain. 

The PM has claimed Sir Keir Starmer is ‘playing politics’ and accused Labour ‘trolls’ of ‘intimidating and threatening’ Tory MPs on the issue. 

Mr Johnson said similar votes in the past had been ‘misrepresented’ by Labour and he did not want to risk that happening again. 

However, a number of Tory MPs are still expected to rebel and vote with Labour.  

Mr Sunak is said to be at the centre of a Cabinet row on whether to extend the payments.  

The Chancellor reportedly wants to scrap the increase because he believes that if it remains in place there is a risk it could become permanent at a cost to the Treasury of approximately £6billion per year. 

Tory MPs have demanded Mr Sunak keep the extra payments until the UK is clear of the Covid-19 crisis while Cabinet ministers, led by Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey, are also urging him to look at extending the policy. 

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is reportedly facing a Cabinet row over whether to extend a £20-a-week increase in Universal Credit payments 

Boris Johnson has instructed Tory MPs to abstain when Labour forces votes on Universal Credit and free school meals today

Boris Johnson has instructed Tory MPs to abstain when Labour forces votes on Universal Credit and free school meals today

Boris Johnson compares Labour ‘trolls’ to Trump supporters ‘inciting hatred’ as he accuses them of ‘intimidating and threatening’ Tory MPs over Universal Credit vote

Boris Johnson has accused Labour ‘trolls’ of ‘intimidating and threatening’ Tory MPs on the crunch issues of Universal Credit and free school meals. 

Labour is set to force symbolic votes on the two issues in the House of Commons this evening but Mr Johnson has instructed his Conservative MPs to abstain. 

He reportedly said similar votes in the past had been ‘misrepresented’ and he did not want to risk that happening again. 

Labour will hold opposition day debates in a bid to force the Government to keep a £20-a-week increase in Universal Credit in place and to demand the extension of the free school meals programme. 

The votes that follow the debates are not binding but Mr Johnson has told Tory MPs that he is wary of what could happen if his colleagues were to vote against the motions. 

According to The Sun, Mr Johnson told Tory MPs in a WhatsApp message sent yesterday that he knew many would be ‘thirsting to give battle’ to Labour.

He continued: ‘But after the shameful way in which they used their army of momentum trolls last time to misrepresent the outcome and to lie about its meaning and frankly to intimidate and threaten colleagues – especially female colleagues – I have decided not to give them that opportunity.’ 

Mr Johnson accused Labour of ‘playing politics’ and of ‘inciting the worst kind of hatred and bullying (of a kind seen sadly across the Atlantic)’.

Ms Stratton sought at lunchtime to explain Mr Johnson’s decision to tell Tory MPs to abstain on today’s vote. 

She said: ‘He is asking people to abstain because today is not the right and proper moment for the Government to be talking about Universal Credit and the £20 uplift.

‘We have always said, the Chancellor has said repeatedly, that he will be coming back to the House in due course with his decision on what should be done with the £20 uplift that is due to end at the end of March.’

Asked why the Government does not simply make a decision now, Ms Stratton said: ‘The Chancellor is constantly filtering the latest up to date information on the economic and health context.

‘That is what he has been doing throughout the pandemic. He has always said he and the Prime Minister will do whatever it takes. That remains true.

‘He is monitoring that data and will come forward when he thinks the time is right.’

She added: ‘We haven’t said whether or not we will continue [with the uplift]. The Chancellor will be coming forward in due course.’

The Times reported that Mr Sunak, Mr Johnson and Ms Coffey met on Friday to look at alternatives to the Universal Credit uplift but no decisions have been made.

One option which is said to be under consideration is to replace the increased payments with a one-off payment of £500. The uplift is currently worth more than £1,000 a year.  

A final decision is not expected to be announced until Mr Sunak delivers the Budget on March 3. 

A Whitehall source suggested Mr Sunak will be isolated in the Cabinet if he does try to scrap the extra payments, telling Politico: ‘The Chancellor is about to find himself on his own. Read the room Rishi.’        

But allies of the Chancellor have pointed to the cost of keeping the policy as they argued it cannot continue indefinitely. 

One Tory official said: ‘As conservatives, we know that work is the best way out of poverty. It’s time we reminded ourselves of that.’ 

However, Labour has pointed out that many Universal Credit claimants are already in work. 

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner tweeted: ‘2.2m recipients of UC are *working* & 70% of children in poverty are in working families. The problem is poverty pay.’ 

The Government is under pressure from its own backbenches to keep the extra £20-a-week payments in place. 

The Northern Research Group, which consists of 65 Tory MPs from the north of England, north Wales and Scotland, has called for the payments to be kept until lockdown restrictions have been lifted. 

Speaking on behalf of the NRG, Conservative MP John Stevenson said: ‘The £1,000 uplift to universal credit has been a real life-saver for people throughout this pandemic. 

‘To end it now would be devastating for the 6million individuals and families who are already struggling to stay afloat.

‘Equally, replacing the current system with a £500 one-off-payment which is half the amount people have been receiving and would exclude the estimated 800,000 people expected to become unemployed in the second quarter of 2021 after the job retention scheme stops will not be sufficient.

‘It would see many people falling through the gaps and would damage our economic recovery.

‘That is why the NRG are once again calling on the Chancellor to extend the Universal Credit uplift until restrictions are lifted, to ensure that individuals and families who have been worst affected by this pandemic are supported through our recovery with the security they need.’

Mr Johnson has accused Sir Keir Starmer of 'playing politics' on the issue of Universal Credit

Mr Johnson has accused Sir Keir Starmer of ‘playing politics’ on the issue of Universal Credit

Labour will hold an opposition day debate this afternoon in a bid to force the Government to keep the payments and to demand the extension of the free school meals programme.  

The votes that follow the debates are not binding but Mr Johnson has told Tory MPs to abstain because he is wary of what could happen if they vote against the motions.

According to The Sun, Mr Johnson told Tory MPs in a WhatsApp message sent yesterday that he knew many would be ‘thirsting to give battle’ to Labour.

He continued: ‘But after the shameful way in which they used their army of momentum trolls last time to misrepresent the outcome and to lie about its meaning and frankly to intimidate and threaten colleagues – especially female colleagues – I have decided not to give them that opportunity.’ 

Mr Johnson accused Labour of ‘playing politics’ and of ‘inciting the worst kind of hatred and bullying (of a kind seen sadly across the Atlantic)’.


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