Hammond has money

Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond delivers his Spring Statement to the House of Commons. Pi

Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond delivers his Spring Statement to the House of Commons. Picture: House of Commons/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond’s spring statement was overshadowed by preparations for this evening’s vote on a no-deal Brexit – but he tried to put forward an upbeat message despite the government’s problems.

He admitted Brexit is casting a “cloud of uncertainty” over the British economy after revealing that the Office for Budget Responsibility has forecast growth of 1.2% this year – a downgrade from the 1.6% forecast at the Budget in 2018.

He did announce a £100m grant to police forces in England to pay for additional overtime targeted on knife crime.

And he announced that the government would fund free sanitary products in schools from the start of the next academic year.

He also announced a new £3bn affordable homes guarantee to support the construction of 30,000 affordable homes across the country.

Delivering his Spring Statement, Mr Hammond told MPs: “Last night’s vote leaves a cloud of uncertainty hanging over our economy. And our most urgent task in this House is to lift that uncertainty.”

But he insisted the economy remained “remarkably robust”.

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The OBR forecast growth of 1.2% this year, 1.4% next year and 1.6% in the following three years.

Mr Hammond said: “Cumulative growth over the five years is now slightly higher than the Budget forecast.”

The Chancellor said there was “good news” on the public finances, with borrowing this year 1.1% of GDP – £3 billion lower than forecast at the Autumn Budget – and forecast to reach £13.5 billion in 2023/24, its lowest level in 22 years.

And he warned: “Leaving with no deal would mean significant disruption in the short and medium-term and a smaller, less prosperous economy in the long-term, than if we leave with a deal.

“Higher unemployment; lower wages; higher prices in the shops. That is not what the British people voted for in June 2016.”

Responding to Mr Hammond’s statement, shadow chancellor John McDonnell said: “We have just witnessed a display by the Chancellor of this Government’s toxic mix of callous complacency over austerity and mishandling of Brexit.”