Rishi Sunak has insisted that Brexit is in the long-term interests of the UK, despite current disruption to fuel and food supplies.
In his first Tory conference speech as chancellor, he claimed that leaving the EU would give him “flexibility” to shape a more modern economy.
He also stated that he wants to cut taxes, but only when the government’s finances are on a “sustainable footing.”
He also announced additional funding for artificial intelligence research.
He told party delegates that he was “proud” to have supported Brexit, despite warnings before the 2016 referendum that it could end his political career.
And he promised activists, “I always put my principles first, and I always will.”
Mr Sunak’s speech comes against a difficult backdrop of rising food and energy prices, as well as supply chain disruption caused by a lorry driver shortage.
So far, the government has rejected demands from the haulage industry to increase the 5,000 temporary visas it intends to issue to foreign drivers to make up for shortfalls.
Mr Sunak insisted in his speech that, despite “challenges,” Brexit would foster a “culture of enterprise” and assist the UK in adapting to the modern world.
He also defended raising taxes to pay for the NHS and social care, insisting that it would be “immoral” to pay for investment with higher borrowing instead.
He told delegates that the country should be grateful to his predecessors for “sound Conservative management” of the economy since 2010.
And, while he acknowledged that tax increases were unpopular and perceived as “un-Conservative,” he stated that they were preferable to “reckless borrowing.”
There was no whizz-bang in the chancellor’s speech, no pulling of huge economic levers on tax or spending, no headline-grabbing policy.
It was also quite brief, much like Rishi Sunak himself.
(He made a lighthearted remark about his own stature…)
This felt like the first draught of Sunak-ism: where the chancellor came from, what he stands for, and where he might go in the future, to an audience that will wonder if he will one day be prime minister.
There were numerous references to his time in California, a state synonymous with sunshine and innovation.
Following the pandemic’s public spending splurges, he portrayed himself as a traditional Conservative: cautious in how taxpayers’ money is spent, drawn to cut taxes when he can – even though he’s raised them.
Although he did wear a suit for his speech, this hoodie-wearing chancellor made 16 references to the “future,” including the line “the future is here.”
Who could he possibly be referring to?
Mr Sunak also stated that the government would double the number of Turing research fellows studying the potential of artificial intelligence.
He also pledged £500 million to renew job support programmes established during the Covid pandemic, following the end of the furlough scheme last month.
The Kickstart Scheme, which subsidises eligible jobs for young people receiving universal credit, will be extended by three months until March 2022.
In addition, the JETS programme, which assists long-term unemployed people on universal credit, will be extended until September 2022.
The Treasury stated that details will be confirmed at the Spending Review, which will take place on the same day as the Budget on October 27.