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A reduction in national insurance would be a “union tax cut”, the prime minister has said ahead of the budget next week.

Rishi Sunak told journalists at the Scottish Conservative conference in Aberdeen on Friday that while he could not comment on what the chancellor Jeremy Hunt will announce on 6 March, he could see the case for trimming the levy – which is paid by workers across the UK – over income tax.

When asked about the fact a cut in the headline rate of income tax may not benefit voters in Scotland if the SNP government chooses not to pass it on, he said national insurance had been cut in January because it is a “tax on work” and benefits all parts of the nation.

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“I’m sure people will appreciate that I can’t comment on any fiscal policy in advance of the budget,” he said.

“But to your broader point, the chancellor and UK government chose to cut national insurance, for lots of reasons but first and foremost because it’s a tax on work and I believe in a country and society where hard work is rewarded.”

He added: “It’s also important to us to be a government that delivers for people in every part of the United Kingdom.

“It’s a union tax cut and a tax cut for everyone in work and the contrast between what we’re doing and what the SNP are doing couldn’t be starker.

“I want to make life easier for people, I want to give them the peace of mind there’s a brighter future for them and their families.”

Jeremy Hunt, pictured at last year's budget, is under pressure to deliver for his parties electoral hopes
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Jeremy Hunt will give his budget on 6 March

Some Conservative MPs have been pushing for a pre-election cut to income tax in the hope of boosting the Conservatives’ flagging popularity.

It was also one of the promises of Mr Sunak’s leadership campaign.

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In Scotland, where the Conservatives are up against the SNP in all of the seats they hold and are targeting, the prime minister has dubbed the SNP the “high tax capital of the United Kingdom”, with Scots earning around £28,000 a year already paying more income tax than those who live in England due to policy decisions at Holyrood.

MSPs passed the final budget for the next financial year this week, including a new income tax band being created, which will see those on a salary between £75,000 and £125,140 paying 45%; while a 1% increase to the highest rate of tax – for those earning more than £125,140 – will take it to 48p in the pound.

In passing the budget, deputy first minister Shona Robison insisted Scotland’s tax system was “progressive” and will provide £500m in funding for the NHS.

Scotland Secretary Alister Jack confirmed he had been lobbying the chancellor for a cut in national insurance – rather than income tax.

Mr Sunak would not comment on reports the government is considering raising revenue by increasing the windfall tax on oil and gas companies, or may force “non-doms” to pay UK tax on foreign income – both ideas Labour has put forward.

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RAF shot down ‘a number of drones’ in Iran’s attack on Israel

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RAF shot down 'a number of drones' in Iran's attack on Israel

UK jets shot down “a number of drones” launched by Iran in its unprecedented attack on Israel last night, Rishi Sunak has said.

The prime minister called the assault by Tehran a “dangerous and unnecessary escalation”, warning the “fallout for regional stability would be hard to overstate” had it been successful.

Israel said Iran launched 170 drones, more than 30 cruise missiles and at least 120 ballistic missiles early on Sunday in an attack that set off air raid sirens across the country.

Follow live updates of Iran’s attack on Israel

Mr Sunak said: “Thanks to an international co-ordinated effort, which the UK participated in, almost all of these missiles were intercepted, saving lives not just in Israel but in neighbouring countries like Jordan as well.”

He added that the UK sent “additional planes” to the region as part of operations already under way in Iraq and Syria.

Pic: AP
Israeli Iron Dome air defense system launches to intercept missiles fired from Iran, in central Israel, Sunday, April 14, 2024. Iran launched its first direct military attack against Israel on Saturday. The Israeli military says Iran fired more than 100 bomb-carrying drones toward Israel. Hours later, Iran announced it had also launched much more destructive ballistic missiles. (AP Photo/Tomer Neuberg)
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Israeli Iron Dome air defense system launches to intercept missiles fired from Iran. Pic: AP

“I can confirm that our planes did shoot down a number of Iranian attack drones,” he said.

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The Ministry of Defence (MoD) had earlier confirmed that several RAF jets and air refuelling tankers had been sent to the region to “bolster Operation Shader” – the UK’s existing counter-Islamic State operation in Iraq and Syria.

However, it was not clear if any drones were shot down, with government minister Victoria Atkins saying on this morning’s media rounds that she is “not in a position to confirm or deny” it.

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Mr Sunak is expected to join US President Joe Biden on a call with G7 leaders on Sunday amid fears of further escalation in the event of a possible Israeli counter-strike.

Pic: Reuters
The remains of a rocket booster that, according to Israeli authorities critically injured a 7-year-old girl, after Iran launched drones and missiles towards Israel, near Arad, Israel, April 14, 2024. REUTERS/Christophe van der Perre
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The remains of a rocket booster that, according to Israeli authorities critically injured a 7-year-old girl. Pic: Reuters

The assault was launched in response to a strike widely blamed on Israel on an Iranian consular building in Syria earlier this month which killed two Iranian generals.

It marks the first time a direct military assault has been launched by Tehran on Israel despite decades of enmity dating back to the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

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‘This is a serious act against Israel’

The development threatens to become a major regional escalation after years of shadow wars fought between the two foes as the conflict in Gaza inflames decades-old tensions in the Middle East.

Britain and the US have offered staunch support for Israel, although Tehran has threatened a “heavier” response if Washington cooperates in any further military action.

Israeli military spokesman rear admiral Daniel Hagari said 99% of more than 300 drones, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles had been shot down outside the country’s borders, with aircraft intercepting more than 10 cruise missiles.

He said a seven-year-old “was severely injured from shrapnel” and there has not been any other known casualties.

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Is Great Britain still that ‘Great’? | Adam Boulton

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Is Great Britain still that 'Great'? | Adam Boulton

Soul searching about the UK’s role in the world has broken out again following the publication of a pamphlet by senior diplomats including Mark Sedwill, a former Cabinet Secretary and National Security Adviser.

The World in 2040: Renewing The UK’s Approach To International Affairs is being denounced for suggesting the Foreign Office should change its name and tone down its grand headquarters built in 1868 at the height of Great Britain’s imperial pomp.

The authors believe a lower profile would befit the reality of our station in the world.

“The UK finds itself today in a changed role as a medium-sized ‘off shore’ power”, the report asserts without explicitly mentioning Brexit.

“Our future has more in common with G20 nations like Japan and in Europe like Norway and Switzerland whose economies are closely linked to major economic neighbours.”

Britain's Foreign Secretary David Cameron at Government House for the annual Australia-UK Ministerial Consultations (AUKMIN), in Adelaide, Australia March 22, 2024. AAP Image/Matt Turner via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE. AUSTRALIA OUT. NEW ZEALAND OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN NEW ZEALAND. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN AUSTRALIA.
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Britain’s Foreign Secretary David Cameron visiting Australia in March. Pic: Reuters

The report argues “the UK has often sought to promote an image of ‘greatness’ to the world which today seems anachronistic. We will be envied for what we are good at, not what we say we are good at”.

This modest proposal to “work with others to try and address the challenges we collectively face” contrasts in style to the bold figure cut this week by Foreign Secretary David Cameron as he bestrode the globe’s biggest diplomatic stage, in the United States, to talk tough on Ukraine and Gaza.

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Lord Cameron is not a man who thinks it is time to play down the ‘Great’ in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. For that matter, the current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer agree with him.

Even Mr Cameron’s detractors admit that he looks the part that we have come to expect of the top British representative abroad. The New York Times described the Foreign Secretary as “almost” a prime minister.

FILE PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump attends the 2024 Senior Club Championship award ceremony at his Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Florida, U.S. March 24, 2024. REUTERS/Marco Bello/File Photo/File Photo
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at the 2024 Senior Club Championship award ceremony in Florida last month. File Pic: Reuters

Donald Trump certainly would have not invited him to dinner in Mar-a-Lago unless he saw him as a fitting match for his own stratospheric estimate of his own importance. Trump’s Republican sidekick, House Speaker Mike Johnson, looked puny in comparison being “too busy” to hear Mr Cameron’s arguments.

The British government says it is important to build links to the man who may be the next US president but Mr Cameron’s visit had, at best, mixed results. The British are not the only ones who are status conscious. Mr Cameron was not granted even a “brush by” or “drop in” by President Joe Biden, perhaps because he had not forewarned the White House he would be visiting his election rival.

Does the UK’s US-centric approach, simultaneously presumptuous and bootlicking, benefit Britain? Rather than trying to be both a great power and “junior partner to America”, as Mr Cameron put it to me on his first prime ministerial visit to Washington, should the UK be pursuing a broader network of co-operative relationships, as the report suggests?

Former UK Cabinet Secretary and National Security Advisor to the Cabinet Office Lord Mark Sedwill. File pic: Reuters
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Former UK Cabinet Secretary and National Security Adviser to the Cabinet Office Lord Mark Sedwill. File pic: Reuters

Great Britain was a geographical description before it became a patriotic boast. Dating back at least 800 years, Grete Britaigne was simply the bigger space where most Britons lived in contrast to Britanny, the lesser Britain in physical terms.

Former PM Lord Cameron presided over the weaponising of the word Great. A campaign launched in 2011 by the Foreign Office, of all departments, morphed innocuously into a series of posters for the 2012 London Olympics.

These celebrated the host country’s assets such as science, sport, or music, proclaiming each one “is Great”.

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This was ahead of Mr Trump’s “Make America Great Again”, though not Ronald Reagan’s use in 1980 of the same campaign phrase.

By 2015 “Britain is Great” had become an official campaign across all government departments. It is still in operation and on display in the UK’s official outposts around the world.

‘Broken Britain’

In a write up for the official civil service quarterly, the cabinet office noted that it worked even in these times of economic constraint, insisting “you don’t need lots of resource but you do need plenty of passion” to get the message across.

The UK and the rest of the world have changed a lot since London 2012. Great Britain may not be wiping out widespread popular perceptions of “Broken Britain”.

In spite of dirty rivers, a struggling NHS, increasing inequality, creaking infrastructure, a declining military and high taxes, we Britons like telling each other that things are “Great”.

There are the Great British Bake-Off and the Great North Run. Boris Johnson won the election in 2019 with the pledge to make this “the greatest place on earth”. The government’s latest plan is for Great British Railways, Labour promises to deliver Great British Energy.

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The diplomats who produced the report include Lord Sedwill, Thomas Fletcher, a former ambassador and Number Ten foreign policy advisor and Moazzam Malik, ex-Foreign Office Director General.

They have represented the UK abroad and to foreigners. They know that you can’t always get what you want and that insisting you are great can be grating.

It is easy for their political masters at home to borrow Boris Johnson’s vocabulary and criticise gloomsters, doomsters and naysayers, while doing nothing themselves to deliver better results in practice.

Britain may not be great in the sense that it is no longer a dominant world power like the US or China, but it is defeatist to write it off as a middle-sized power.

There are around 200 nations in the world. As the report acknowledges, the UK has the sixth largest economy and is a significant “soft power” with world class universities second only to the US.

The UK is also 21st in GDP per capita, one of only five permanent members of the UN Security Council, a possessor of an independent nuclear deterrent, a leading defence contributor to NATO, the prime mover of the Commonwealth and the origin of the world language, English.

Even the colonial overtones of the Empire, which the report wants to downplay, point to global reach, even if it is troubled. Great Britain should not boast but there is no need for the UK to run itself down either.

It might be better to rename the currently cumbersome Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office as simply The Foreign Office rather than to rebrand it apologetically as the Department for International Affairs – which would in any case provoke tabloid investigations of diplomatic bed hopping.

Wherever politicians and officials stand on these pressing questions, argument about words, flags and what pictures to hang on the wall is a distraction from what really matters for Britain’s future.

Lord Sedwill notes dryly in his report that “influence abroad arises from political and economic success at home” and not from how great we claim we are.

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Liz Truss was ‘ecstatic’ with mini-budget plan and claims Number 10 infested with fleas in new memoir

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Liz Truss was 'ecstatic' with mini-budget plan and claims Number 10 infested with fleas in new memoir

Liz Truss has revealed she considered abolishing the UK’s economic watchdog and replacing leaders at the Treasury and Bank of England, accusing the bodies of being “pro-China” and “pro-Remain”.

The country’s shortest serving prime minister said she discussed scrapping the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) with her Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng but concluded it would have “amounted to a declaration of war on the economic establishment”.

In an extract from her memoir published by the Daily Mail, Ms Truss says the OBR, Treasury, and Bank of England “were more interested in balancing the books than growing the economy” and saw immigration “as a way of fixing the public finances”.

Defending her September 2022 mini-budget – which led to a surge in borrowing costs and saw the pound slump to a 37-year low against the dollar – the former prime minister said she would “accept that the communications around the mini-budget were not as good as they could have been”.

However, she said the afternoon after which Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng outlined the growth plan was “probably my happiest moment as prime minister” adding “I was ecstatic”.

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Truss’ time as PM

Mr Kwarteng was sacked three weeks later amid rising mortgage costs, before most measures in the statement were axed in an attempt to stabilise financial markets.

Kwasi Kwarteng
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Kwasi Kwarteng was also sacked following the mini-budget. Pic: PA

The serialisation also includes behind-the-scenes details of domestic life as a senior government figure.

More on Liz Truss

While foreign secretary, Ms Truss says she was forced to share the grace-and-favour Chevening mansion in Kent with her predecessor Dominic Raab and would find “protein shakes labelled ‘Raab’ in the fridge”.

Anecdotes, complaints and lamentations – but a lack of self-awareness


Rob Powell Political reporter

Rob Powell

Political correspondent

@robpowellnews

Given Liz Truss is the shortest-serving prime minister in UK history and given she oversaw an economic meltdown and was forced to fire her own Chancellor and repeal most of her policy offering, the extracts of her memoirs are strikingly bereft of any self-criticism or self-awareness.

As the political blogger Sam Freeman has pointed, bits of the book feel like a ‘what I did on my holidays school essay’.

There’s amusing and eminently readable anecdotes about trying to get Ocado shops delivered to Downing Street, taking her children into the government nuclear bunker, and finding Dominic Raab’s protein shakes in the fridge at the foreign secretary’s country residence.

There’s also some complaining.

The former Prime Minister laments having to book her own hair and make up and says a lack of medical support meant her private secretary had to get her cough medicine in the middle of the night.

She says living in Downing Street was “intensely claustrophobic” and she was “effectively a prisoner”.

It’s an open question whether that stirs much sympathy with those who saw their mortgage rates soar during her chaotic 50 days in office.

Then there’s the now familiar defence of her economic strategy, which once again seems to consist of blaming everyone bar herself.

In four pages of text, I spotted just two flashes of introspection.

She acknowledges that the “communications around the mini-budget were not as good as they could have been”. But then neuters that mea culpa by adding: “But I have to ask: what would we have been waiting for?”

She also says the late Queen had told her to “pace yourself”, before adding “maybe I should have listened”.

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The Norfolk MP is also critical of the levels of personal support offered to UK prime ministers saying “despite now being one of the most photographed people in the country, I had to organise my own hair and make-up appointments”.

She described the prime ministerial flat above the Number 10 offices as infested with fleas that some claimed came from her predecessor Boris Johnson’s dog Dilyn.

Ms Truss also revealed she and her husband had ordered new furniture for the residence “but were evicted before it could be delivered”.

The death of the Queen is also described in the extracts, with Ms Truss saying the fact it happened on her second full day as prime minister left her in a “state of shock” and thinking “Why me? Why now?”.

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