Osborne accused of deliberately misleading committee on VAT

Labour MP says the chancellor set a trap for Ed Miliband which amounts to 'a very major democracy issue'


Labour MP John Mann has accused George Osborne of ‘the most serious breach of the select committee system in parliamentary history’. Speaking on the Today programme, Mann said that the chancellor’s obfuscation over the issue of VAT was a set-up designed to wrong foot Ed Miliband at Prime Minister’s Questions.

On Tuesday, George Osborne appeared before the Treasury Committee, which included Mann, and refused five times to rule out a VAT rise. He skirted the question in various ways:

“We do not need to increase VAT because our plans involve saving money on the welfare budget and government departments.”

“I have identified where the £30bn of savings I believe need to come from and they don’t involve a VAT rise,”

“[The Labour] party is proposing very substantial tax rises; I suspect that will be VAT, or jobs or income tax.”

Then, at yesterday’s PMQs, Ed Miliband challenged David Cameron directly on the issue:

“Here’s a straight question: Will he now rule out a rise in VAT?” 

To Miliband’s evident dismay, the prime minister responded:

“He’s right, straight questions do deserve straight answers. And the answer is ‘yes’.”

Cue deafening crowing from the Tory benches and a floundering Miliband.

But John Mann is accusing the chancellor of going beyond standard political game playing, and says that his behaviour on Tuesday amounted to contempt of parliament. He said:

“If the governor of the Bank of England or the head of the financial regulator said that they would have to resign.

“For the chancellor to mislead the committee and then for it to be a political set up for the next day what it does it it brings into disrepute the whole committee system.” 

Last night Business minister Matt Hancock appeared on BBC Newsnight, letting slip that Osborne knew about the VAT promise before the meeting of the Treasury Committee, and that the information had been deliberately withheld:

“There was obviously a decision not to announce a new policy in that forum but instead to announce it at Prime Minister’s Questions.”

Mann then immediately tweeted:

Inevitably, some will discount Mann’s allegations and accuse Labour of being sore losers after yesterday’s embarrassing episode.

Ruby Stockham is  a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter

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