Conservative MPs have warned the Chancellor that hiking fuel duty in the Budget could hurt the NHS while it is under strain dealing with the coronavirus outbreak.
Robert Halfon, the driving force behind a petition supported by 36 Tory backbenchers, said raising taxes at the pumps would have an impact on the health service – just as Rishi Sunak looks set to hand over more money to help the NHS deal with the virus crisis.
The UK, as of Monday, has 319 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and four people have died in UK hospitals.
Mr Sunak told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday that the Government is ready to deliver “whatever action is required” to deal with the outbreak, and pledged to give the NHS the resources it needs in his first Budget on Wednesday.
But Mr Halfon warned that it would be akin to “giving with one hand and taking away with the other” if the Chancellor gave the NHS extra cash while raising fuel duty.
“Our message to the Chancellor is that the economy is facing a major challenge in coronavirus,” the Harlow MP told the PA news agency.
“We should be helping ordinary folk and businesses, not hammering them with fuel duty charges.
“Don’t forget, the NHS is going to need a lot of extra money to deal with this kind of virus.
“What’s the point though if you then put up fuel duty? Then the NHS will have to pay more as well because of the cost of transportation, ambulances and all that sort of thing.
“They would be giving with one hand and taking away with the other.”
Senior Tories such as former party leader Iain Duncan Smith, ex-Brexit secretary David Davis and ex-transport secretary Chris Grayling were among the signatories to the letter, which Mr Halfon handed to Treasury officials on Monday.
Mr Halfon and his colleagues want a fuel duty freeze to be announced in the Commons on Wednesday.
And campaigners have flagged to Downing Street that – along with another 13 Tory MPs who signed a similar letter, led by ex-Cabinet minister Esther McVey, on February 24 – they have the numbers to bring about Boris Johnson’s first Commons defeat since securing his 80-seat landslide victory at the December election if Mr Sunak does opt to hike fuel duty.
The MPs’ letter co-ordinated by Mr Halfon was backed up with a petition by FairFuelUK, which garnered more than 134,000 signatures.
FairFuelUK founder Howard Cox urged the Chancellor not to be tempted to use the drastic drop in oil prices to put up taxes on petrol.
The RAC has predicted that petrol prices could fall by up to 10p after the price of a barrel of Brent crude, the international standard, reached around 35.50 US dollars just before midday on Monday following Saudi Arabia and Russia’s falling-out over attempts to control production.
Mr Cox told PA: “The big worry for us is, because oil prices have plummeted, that gives him (Mr Sunak) the excuse to put fuel duty up.
“He might think he can put it up by one or two pence and leave it on there.
“But we want a cut and we are calling for a 3p cut in duty.”
He said economic analysts had calculated that a 3p reduction could lead to the creation of 150,000 jobs and a 0.5% boost to GDP.
Mr Cox also argued that cutting the price of fuel would encourage motorists to adopt cleaner fuels for their vehicles.
Other MPs to sign the letter submitted to the Treasury include: Robin Millar, Ian Levy, Jamie Wallis, Nicola Richards, Stephen McPartland, Craig Williams, Ian Liddell-Grainger, Bob Blackman, Craig Mackinlay, James Davies, Julian Lewis, William Wragg, Lee Anderson, Nick Fletcher, Jonathan Gullis, Dean Russell, Andrew Bridgen, Chris Loder, Gary Sambrook, Rob Roberts, John Howell, Craig Whittaker, Greg Smith, Christian Wakeford, Mark Pritchard, Peter Aldous, Tracey Crouch, Martin Vickers, Shailesh Vara, Richard Drax, Laurence Robertson, Lia Nici and James Daly.