Normally, the Saturday before an autumn statement would be dominated by speculation about what is in it. But, as I say in The Sun today, both Number 10 and the Treasury are emphasising that while there’ll be important things on productivity, infrastructure and fiscal rules in Wednesday’s statement, there’ll be no rabbits out of hats.
Partly, this is because of Philip Hammond’s personality: he’s not a political showman. But it is also because he’s not got much room for manoeuvre. As he has emphasised to Cabinet colleagues, the growth forecasts might not be dramatically lower than they were in March, but cumulatively they have a big effect—limiting what the government can spend. He also warned them that the debt to GDP ratio might be forecast to be ninety percent plus, the level at which markets start to get worried. So, Hammond wants to keep his stimulus powder dry in case of the economy grinding to a halt, which despite the Treasury predictions it has not done post-referendum.
Brexit still dwarfs everything else in British politics, though. So, it is intriguing—as I report in my Sun column this morning—that Eurosceptic Tory MPs are, for the first time since her conference speech on Brexit, seeking to toughen Theresa May’s negotiating position.
I understand that a letter will be published shortly setting out that Brexit must mean leaving the EU single market and the customs union. The letter is being organised by Steve Baker and scores of backbenchers have signed it. The 4 most prominent Tory Brexiteers out of government—Michael Gove, John Whittingdale, Theresa Villiers and Dominic Raab—have all lent their name to it.
Their aim is to offset some of the pressure from Remainers for the UK to stay inside the single market and the customs union. But the letter will also remind Theresa May that there are lots of Tories who want to make sure that Brexit really does mean Brexit.