Boris Johnson was confronted today with his previous claims that the UK could cut its 5% VAT rate on energy bills after Brexit.
At today’s coronavirus press conference, the prime minister was confronted with the question of whether he would cut the tax as rising gas prices threaten to bring many people into energy poverty.
Before the EU referendum in 2016, Mr Johnson said: “If we vote for the exit, we will be able to abolish this unfair and harmful tax,” reports the mirror.
At the time he added: “It is not right that unelected bureaucrats in Brussels impose taxes on the poorest and elected British politicians cannot do anything”.
But despite this claim, the prime minister failed to keep his promise and struggled for an answer when confronted with his own promise.
When asked whether he had misled voters about abolishing the tax, he said “not at all” but then said it was a “blunt instrument”.
His new rationale for not lowering VAT is that it would not only lower the cost of those in dire need of cheaper fuel, but also the cost of “many people who do not need assistance in the same direct way”.
He also criticized his opposition, claiming that it is now Remain’s politicians who are calling for the VAT to be abolished.
Mr Johnson said: “As for VAT on energy bills, I find it somewhat paradoxical that this is being encouraged by people who actually wanted to – and still do – stay in the EU when it was impossible to deliver within the EU EU.
“We’ll continue to listen to businesses and consumers about how we can cut energy bills, and in the meantime we can do all sorts of things to help people out on gas prices, but we have the Warm Home discount, £ 140 off energy bills, the winter fuel payments which cover 11.4 million retirees, the cold weather payments, etc. most of them.
But while he didn’t say he would keep his promise to cut sales tax, Mr Johnson said instead that he “won’t rule out further action.”
He then went on to explain the problems with lowering VAT.
“The argument, as you know, is a rather blunt tool, and the difficulty is that you end up cutting the fuel bills for a lot of people who don’t need assistance in the same straightforward way that we need to give it.
“We have to help the people who live most of all in energy poverty.”
Then he ended the conversation by awkwardly asking Chief Medical Officer Chris Witty if he had anything to add on the subject.