Kwasi Kwarteng is ‘very bright’ says Greg Hands
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International trade minister Greg Hands has said he has “absolute confidence” in the Chancellor despite rumours that another major u-turn on his mini-budget could be pushed through in a matter of days. As Mr Kwarteng returned early from a conference in Washington DC, it is believed he and Liz Truss will pull back on their promise to cancel the reversal of the planned corporation tax hike to 25 percent, representing their second serious U-turn in a fortnight. But Mr Hands said Mr Kwarteng was an “incredibly capable person” and that his leaving early from Washington did not prove that a u-turn was on its way, nor did it imply the Chancellor’s position was under threat.
Asked if Kwasi Kwarteng’s position was “tenable”, Mr Hands said: “Oh, totally. I mean Kwasi Kwarteng himself said he was 100 percent sure he will still be in the position.
“I know the Prime Minister has got total confidence in Kwasi Kwarteng. I have worked very closely with Kwasi and he is an incredibly capable person. A very very bright person who makes good judgement calls. I have absolute confidence in Kwasi Kwarteng as Chancellor of the Exchequer.”
Asked if he would still have confidence in Mr Kwarteng if he were to reverse or delay his planned freezing of corporation tax at 19 percent, Mr Hands said: “Well, you are asking me to speculate.”
Ms Washington said: “Well it is a speculation that the market is doing and that a lot of Tory MPs are pushing for.”
Mr Hands said: “But it is not right for me to speculate. What I am saying is the Prime Minister and the Chancellor are absolutely determined on their course and more detail will be laid out before too long in the medium-term fiscal plan on October 31.”
Pressed on why Mr Kwarteng was returning early from New York, Mr Hands said: “It’s not unusual to come back a day early from an international visit.
“He is coming back for discussions with colleagues. There is a lot of work to be done.
“But the major meat of the meetings with the World Bank and the IMF have finished and the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been there now for two days. It is not unusual for him to come back a day early.”
Kwasi Kwarteng is returning to London ahead of schedule for urgent talks with Liz Truss as expectations grow that they will scrap parts of their mini-budget to reassure markets.
The Chancellor was set to travel back from the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) annual meeting in Washington DC this weekend but is now due to land in the UK on Friday morning, where he is likely to find a significant section of his mini-budget redrawn after days of open revolt among Tory MPs and an emerging market consensus that another U-turn is on the cards. Mr Kwarteng cancelled appointments at the IMF gathering to fly home early.
A Treasury spokesperson said: “After completing a successful series of meetings at the IMF, the Chancellor is returning to London today to continue work at pace on the medium-term fiscal plan.”
The Prime Minister’s key pledge to scrap the planned increase in corporation tax from 19 percent to 25 percent is widely seen as a likely casualty in the coming days, as Ms Truss seeks to save her embattled premiership.
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It comes amid reports that senior Tories are plotting the possibility of replacing Ms Truss with a joint ticket of Rishi Sunak and Penny Mordaunt, with the Times newspaper also reporting that party grandees are considering replacing her with a “unity candidate”.
Downing Street on Thursday did not deny that the potential exists for a reversal on the corporation tax policy, one of the landmark promises made by Ms Truss in her pitch to become Tory leader, with talks said to be underway between No 10 and the Treasury on abandoning elements of the £43 billion tax-cutting plan.
Speculation was fuelled further when the Chancellor, in an interview with the Telegraph, only said “let’s see” when asked about the expectation from financial markets that the Government could ditch its corporation tax promise.
It comes amid concerns in Westminster about the fate of the Chancellor, only a few weeks into the job if his financial plans are torn up in the coming days. Mr Kwarteng on Thursday was insisting that his position was safe, telling broadcasters in Washington that he was “not going anywhere”.
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