Politics

Ex-Tory minister willing to get ‘kicked out’ over benefits rebellion

Former defence minister Johnny Mercer has said he is willing to get “kicked out” of the Conservative party as he vowed to fight Liz Truss over the prospect of a real-terms benefit cut.

The ex-veterans minister said he would defy Tory whips and rebel if the prime minister did not uprate benefits in line with inflation, with a growing number MPs urging Ms Truss to concede defeat on the issue.

“I won’t vote for a Budget that doesn’t see an uprating of benefits and universal credit line with inflation,” Mr Mercer told a Facebook live session. “And if that means I get kicked out of the Tory party, fine.”

In a fresh blue-on-blue attack, Mr Mercer – who earlier this week attacked the “comedic” figures running the government – claimed Ms Truss was “urinating all over” a promise to provide more support to military veterans.

The former minister, ditched by Ms Truss when she entered No 10 last month, said: “I’m just very disappointed the prime minister choose to urinate all over it.”

Ms Truss remains “determined” to press ahead with plans to uprate benefits in line with earnings at around 5.5 per cent rather than 10 per cent inflation, according to the Daily Mail.

At this week’s Tory conference the PM repeatedly refused to say whether univeral credit would keep pace with inflation, as she and her chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng look to cut government spending to help pay for the tax cut plan which spooked the markets.

But moderate Tory rebels are confident they have the numbers to force a climbdown, after they successfully forced a U-turn on plans to axe the 45p top rate of tax for the wealthiest.

One told The Independent a showdown was looming on the issue. “She has to give in on benefits – we’re not going to give in on that,” the MP said.

The backbencher suggested Labour could force an embarrassing vote on the issue when parliament returns next week. “If I was Keir Starmer I would put down a [opposition] motion on benefits – it would expose the division in our party. It could be a defining moment.”

Another backbencher, a Truss supporter, said: “There’s no point in fighting on this. She should come out and say they will be uprated with inflation and draw a line this.”

The issue has caused a major rift in cabinet. Commons leader Penny Mordaunt made clear at conference she wanted benefits hiked with living costs, while Robert Buckland and Chloe Smith are also believed to pushing for an inflation-linked uprate.

One unnamed cabinet minister told the i: “On universal credit, we are going to win. I’m going to make sure of that.”

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has estimated that pegging benefits to earnings rather than inflation could cut spending by around £7bn.

But Tories are worried about that a real-terms cut will add to the perception the party is taking from the poor to pay for tax cuts disproportionally benefiting the rich.

Urging patience on the issue, Tory chairman Jake Berry claimed that the government would have to wait until inflation figures are available to make a decision on uprating benefits this autumn.

Mr Berry also apologised for his remarks calling on struggling Britons to “go out there and get that new job”. The senior Tory told Times Radio that he regretted his “clumsy” comments was he grilled on his weekend remarks on Thursday.

But Mr Mercer told Facebook live: “A hell of a lot of people on benefits are in work, so this idea you can go and work more is for the birds.”

The latest row comes as former cabinet Nadine Dorries warned that the Tory party faced electoral “wipeout” if Ms Truss did not change course – condemning her “lurch to the right” on the economy.

Mr Berry said Ms Dorries was “a very fine individual and a very fine Conservative”, but said he did not “understand” or “agree with” her comments.

Meanwhile, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer fired back at the prime minister after she labelled him party of Britain’s anti-growth coalition”. Asked about Ms Truss’s attack, Sir Keir told BBC Radio Sheffield: “Oh for heaven’s sake – the enemies of growth.”

“She’s just passed a kamikaze budget that has lost control of the economy, that is putting hundreds of pounds on mortgages bills. That is the absolute opposite of a plan for growth. She’s not just anti-growth – she’s the destroyer of growth.”

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