UK’s Sunak cuts taxes to soften cost-of-living hit

Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak leaves the 11 Downing Street, in London, on March 23, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 23 March 2022

UK’s Sunak cuts taxes to soften cost-of-living hit

  • Sunak set out measures that would inject about $23.2 billion into the economy in the coming financial year
  • "The actions we have taken to sanction Putin's regime are not cost-free for us at home," said British finance minister

LONDON: British finance minister Rishi Sunak cut taxes for workers and reduced a duty on fuel on Wednesday as he sought to soften a severe cost-of-living squeeze against the backdrop of fast-rising inflation and slowing economic growth.
Announcing a half-yearly budget update overshadowed by the conflict in Ukraine, Sunak set out measures that would inject about 17.6 billion pounds ($23.2 billion) into the economy in the coming financial year.
“The actions we have taken to sanction (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s regime are not cost-free for us at home,” he told parliament. “The invasion of Ukraine presents a risk to our recovery – as it does to countries around the world.”
In response to the hit to living standards — with inflation seen peaking at nearly 9 percent in late 2022 — Sunak said he was increasing the threshold at which workers start to pay national insurance, or social security, contributions by 3,000 pounds ($3,958.50) from July.
“That’s a 6-billion-pound personal tax cut for 30 million people across the United Kingdom,” he said, adding it would save workers more than 330 pounds a year each and was the largest single personal tax cut in a decade.
But Sunak stuck to his plan to increase the level of national insurance contributions from next month to help fund more spending on health and social care after the COVID-19 pandemic.
In his Spring Statement, Sunak announced a cut in fuel duty of 5 pence per liter, to start later on Wednesday and last until March next year. He said the basic rate of income tax would be reduced by one pence in the pound in 2024, when Britons are next to due to vote in a general election.
However, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), which produces the forecasts that underpin the government’s budget planning, said Sunak was undoing only one sixth of the tax rises he has previously announced.
The OBR also said living standards, adjusted for inflation, would not recover their pre-pandemic levels until the 2024/25 financial year and would suffer their biggest contraction in the 12 months from April since at least the mid-1950s.
Sunak and Prime Minister Boris Johnson have been under pressure, including from lawmakers within their Conservative Party, to do more to help households as they struggle with the rising cost of living.
Sunak announced new forecasts showing the British economy will grow more slowly this year than previously predicted and that inflation will be much higher.
The forecasts drawn up by the OBR showed the economy was likely to grow by 3.8 percent in 2022, a sharp slowdown from a forecast of 6.0 percent made in October.
Inflation, as measured by the consumer price index, is now seen at 7.4 percent in 2022, compared with October’s forecast of 4.0 percent.
Earlier, data showed Britain’s consumer price inflation hit a 30-year high of 6.2 percent last month, driven by soaring costs for energy and food which poorer households especially may find hard to cut back on.
The OBR forecast that gross domestic product would grow by 1.8 percent, 2.1 percent and 1.8 percent in 2023, 2024 and 2025.
In October, the OBR had forecast growth of 2.1 percent, 1.3 percent and 1.6 percent over the next three years.
The OBR said borrowing by the government was due to come in 55 billion pounds lower than it expected in October.
Sunak said the fiscal rules he set for the public finances would be met with “a clear safety margin.” ($1 = 0.7579 pounds)

Pakistan rejects Indian Supreme Court decision to uphold revocation of Kashmir’s special status

Updated 46 min 17 sec ago

Pakistan rejects Indian Supreme Court decision to uphold revocation of Kashmir’s special status

  • Authorities vow to petition heads of the UN and Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the EU Parliament, on the issue
  • India and Pakistan each rule parts of Kashmir but claim it in full; India in 2019 revoked the special status of the part it controls and split it into two federal territories

ISLAMABAD: Authorities in Pakistan rejected a unanimous ruling by the Indian Supreme Court on Monday to uphold the 2019 decision by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to revoke the special status of Indian-controlled Kashmir, describing the judges’ decision as a “travesty of justice.”

In response to more than a dozen petitions challenging the government’s actions, five judges sitting on the court’s constitutional bench said the region’s special status had been a “temporary provision” and removing it was constitutionally valid.

Indian-controlled Kashmir, the only Muslim-majority region in the country, has been at the heart of more than 75 years of hostility with neighboring Pakistan since the partition of India in 1947, when British colonial rule ended. India and Pakistan each rule parts of Kashmir but claim it in full.

The UN Security Council adopted several resolutions in 1948 and the 1950s relating to the dispute, including one calling for a referendum to determine the future of the region.

“Pakistan categorically rejects the judgment announced by the Supreme Court of India,” Pakistani Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani said, noting that the area it relates to is an internationally recognized disputed territory that has remained on the agenda of the Security Council for more than seven decades.

“India has no right to make unilateral decisions on the status of this disputed territory against the will of the Kashmiri people and Pakistan … India cannot abdicate its international obligations on the pretext of domestic legislation and judicial verdict.”

The judicial endorsement of the “unilateral and illegal” actions by Indian authorities in August 2019 to revoke Kashmir’s special status is a “travesty of justice based on distorted historical and legal arguments,” he added.

Pakistani authorities will convene a meeting of all stakeholders and political leaders to decide how best to respond to the development, said Jilani.

“We will write to the United Nations secretary-general, the OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation) secretary-general, and the European Union Parliament to appraise them of the futility of this decision,” he added.

“We are in the process of interacting with all the stakeholders and we will consider all options after consulting with the relevant stakeholders.”

The dispute over Kashmir sparked two of three wars between India and Pakistan in the years after independence, the first in 1947-48 and the second in 1965. The third, in 1971, was largely related to Bangladesh’s attempts to gain independence from Pakistan.

UK retailer pulls Pan Am-themed jumper after Lockerbie offense

Updated 11 December 2023

UK retailer pulls Pan Am-themed jumper after Lockerbie offense

  • Online petition signed by hundreds ahead of 35th anniversary of bombing
  • Flight 103 exploded over Scotland in 1988, killing 270 people

LONDON: UK clothing retailer Next has removed a Pan Am-themed Christmas jumper from sale after offending families whose relatives were killed in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, Metro newspaper reported on Monday.

Dec. 21 will mark 35 years since Pam Am Flight 103 was destroyed over the Scottish town of Lockerbie by a bomb on board, killing all 259 people on board and 11 on the ground.

Next was criticized over the jumper’s design in an online petition that was signed by hundreds of people.

Comments on the petition described the jumper as “offensive and disrespectful,” “disgusting” and “absolutely shocking.”

Phil Geddes, a Lockerbie resident who launched the petition, said: “As a resident of the town at the time of the Lockerbie bombing, an event that has left an indelible mark on the lives of many hundreds of people, this item, in its design or message, is offensive and disrespectful to those affected by this tragic event.

“The pain and trauma it caused are still felt today by countless individuals around the world. To see a product that makes light of such a tragedy or uses it for commercial gain is not only insensitive, but also deeply hurtful.”

Signatories of the petition spoke of their personal connections to the bombing. One commenter, Shona, said: “I worked at the local hospital the night of the Lockerbie disaster and it’s as fresh in my mind 35 years later as it was back then. This jumper needs to be taken off the market immediately.”

Another Lockerbie resident, Stephanie, said: “I lost a friend on Flight 103. This is beyond distasteful.”

Zara pulls advert from website front page after Gaza boycott calls

Updated 11 December 2023

Zara pulls advert from website front page after Gaza boycott calls

  • Zara’s Instagram account saw tens of thousands of comments posted about the photos while “#BoycottZara” was trending on X

LONDON: Zara pulled an advertising campaign featuring mannequins with missing limbs and statues wrapped in white from the front page of its website and app on Monday after it prompted calls by some pro-Palestine activists for a boycott of the fashion retailer.
Inditex, which owns Zara, said the change was part of its normal procedure of refreshing content. It did not comment on the boycott calls, but said the “Atelier” collection was conceived in July and the photos were taken in September. The war between Israel and Hamas began after Oct. 7
Zara’s Instagram account saw tens of thousands of comments posted about the photos, many with Palestinian flags, while “#BoycottZara” was trending on messaging platform X.


Spanish fashion retailer Zara faced an online backlash for its latest advertising campaign, which social media users criticized for its alleged similarities with destruction in Gaza. Click here to read more.

In one of the photos a model is pictured carrying a mannequin wrapped in white, in another a bust lies on the floor and another features a mannequin with no arms. Critics said they resembled photos of corpses in white shrouds in Gaza.
Zara said at the launch of the collection on Dec. 7 that it was inspired by men’s tailoring from past centuries. The photos appear to show an artist studio with ladders, packing materials, wooden crates and cranes, and assistants wearing overalls.
The reaction highlights heightened sensitivity international brands are navigating as fighting across Gaza intensifies and calls for company boycotts rise. The CEO of Web Summit resigned in October after comments he made on the Israel-Hamas conflict.
The photos, which featured on Zara’s online store home page on Monday morning, were no longer visible on the website or on its app by 1230 GMT. A link on the UK website to Zara Atelier led to a page showcasing last year’s collection.
The collection, of six jackets, is one of Zara’s most expensive, priced from $229 for a grey wool blazer with chunky knit sleeves, to $799 for a studded leather jacket.

Scottish leader Humza Yousaf slams UK foreign minister as ‘petty’ over Erdogan COP28 meeting threat

Updated 11 December 2023

Scottish leader Humza Yousaf slams UK foreign minister as ‘petty’ over Erdogan COP28 meeting threat

  • David Cameron issues warning over ‘breach of protocol’ following Yousaf’s talks with Turkish president in Dubai

LONDON: Scotland’s First Minister Humza Yousaf branded British Foreign Secretary David Cameron “petty” and “misguided” over his threat to withdraw foreign office support for Scottish ministers on overseas trips.

Cameron wrote a letter to Angus Robertson, the Scottish parliament’s constitution secretary, on Sunday in which he said Yousaf had breached protocol by meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the recent UN COP28 climate conference in Dubai without a UK official present.

He accused Yousaf of failing to provide “sufficient advance notice” of the meeting to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

Cameron, a former prime minister, also threatened to close Scottish offices in UK embassies and withdraw foreign office support for Scottish officials while overseas if there were “further breaches” of protocol.

James Cleverly made a similar threat during his time as UK foreign secretary after Yousaf met the prime minister of Iceland in August with no British officials present.

Yousaf, who is the first Muslim leader of Scotland and head of the governing Scottish National Party, dismissed the criticism on Monday, describing Cameron as an “unelected lord.”

He also said that any withdrawal of FCDO support would have a negative impact on Scotland’s economy.

Yousaf said the meeting was arranged at short notice by a Turkish delegation, but that he would have had “no problem” with a British government official attending.

According to Yousaf, an FCDO official “chose not to stay with the Scottish delegation the whole day, and because of that they ended up missing the meeting.”

He added that a UK government representative had been present during a “vast majority” of meetings held during COP28.

“Nothing was discussed that hadn’t been discussed at other meetings, such as the climate crisis, and in this particular meeting the issue of the Israel-Gaza conflict,” Yousaf said.

“For Lord Cameron to say he’s basically going to stop Scotland’s international engagement because of one meeting, where one FCDO official wasn’t able to attend — because, of course, at events like COP, diaries can change quite last minute — is really petty, really misguided.

“I suggest to Lord Cameron that next time, if he has an issue like that, he should just pick up the phone. I’m sure it can be resolved.” 

A UK government spokesperson said: “Foreign affairs is reserved under the Scotland Act and, in such turbulent times, the need for the UK to speak on the world stage with one consistent voice is more important than ever.”

UK’s Sunak faces key test over Rwanda migrant policy vote

Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak arrives at the COVID Inquiry at Dorland House in London, Monday, Dec. 11, 2023. (AP)
Updated 11 December 2023

UK’s Sunak faces key test over Rwanda migrant policy vote

  • Sunak has put the plan at the heart of his pledge to stop irregular migration, making the issue a key battleground in a general election expected next year

LONDON: UK leader Rishi Sunak faces the riskiest week of his premiership, with lawmakers gathering Monday to decide whether to back his flagship policy to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.
Factions of MPs from across Sunak’s divided Conservatives have convened meetings to consider how to vote when the controversial legislation goes before parliament on Tuesday.
Sunak has put the plan at the heart of his pledge to stop irregular migration, making the issue a key battleground in a general election expected next year.
But opposition to the scheme from both right-wingers and centrists is widening schisms in the ruling party, putting Sunak’s year-and-a-bit leadership in jeopardy.
The government announced a new bill last week after Supreme Court judges ruled in November that the deportation plan was illegal, as Rwanda was not a safe country.
The legislation would compel judges to treat Rwanda as safe and proposes giving UK ministers powers to disregard sections of human rights legislation.
The proposals have sparked fresh concerns from opposition parties, human rights groups and more moderate Tories who oppose any violations of international law by Britain.
However, right-wingers — including Robert Jenrick, who quit as immigration minister last week, and firebrand ex-home secretary Suella Braverman — say the legislation fails to go far enough.
Some on the right have called for Britain to withdraw from the European Court of Human Rights and other international treaties, to stop courts blocking removals.
Up to 100 backbench MPs from five different groupings on the Conservatives’ right wing, including the powerful European Research Group (ERG), which advocated a hard-line Brexit.
The ERG called the bill was “the toughest piece of migration legislation ever put forward by a UK government.”
But it said it only provided a “partial and incomplete solution” to expected legal challenges and would require “very significant amendments.”
The centrist One Nation group, which also has about 100 members, is expected to release its own statement later on Monday.
Tuesday is the first opportunity that MPs will have to vote on the legislation, in what is called a second reading.
A government bill has not been defeated at this stage in the process for almost 40 years.
But several abstentions would also damage Sunak, who was elected unopposed by Tory MPs in October last year following Liz Truss’s calamitous 49-day reign.
If it scrapes through, right-wingers are also expected to try to rewrite the legislation at later stages while the House of Lords upper chamber would have an opportunity to block it.
Sunak has bet his pledge to “stop the boats” crossing the Channel on the Rwanda scheme — which has been stuck in the courts since the first deportees were pulled off a flight at the last minute in June 2022, after an injunction from the European Court of Human Rights.
Almost 30,000 irregular migrants have crossed the Channel from northern France in rudimentary vessels this year.
Tory divisions have worsened since Britain voted to leave the European Union in 2016, largely on a promise to “take back control” of its borders.
Sunak, who has told MPs the Conservatives must “unite or die,” has denied that Tuesday’s vote amounts to a confidence vote on his leadership.
Some Westminster watchers have speculated that he may be tempted to call an early election — which must be held by January 2025 — if he loses the vote.
The Conservatives, in power since 2010, have served up five prime ministers since the 2016 Brexit vote.
They currently lag well behind Labour, the main opposition party, in opinion polls.