Labour’s shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves spoke to Channel 4 News ahead of her conference speech. She said she has “no plans whatsoever” to increase income tax adding that Brexit has “played a part” in the shortage of HGV drivers causing fuel shortages and queues at petrol stations across the country.
RR: There’s a whole range of reasons why we’re in the mess that we are in (such as) the government’s complacency and negligence. Brexit, of course, has played a part in why there was a shortage of HGV drivers. Up until the beginning of this year, if you were an HGV driver in any of the other EU countries, you could come in here and work without a visa. That’s no longer possible. Now, that might have been OK if the government had put a plan in place to train up HGV drivers and plug that skills gap. But there was no plan. And that’s why we are in the mess we are in today.
CN: So your leader now says 100,000 visas should be issued for foreign drivers as a temporary measure. But in the medium term and in the long term, does Labour want immigration higher for this purpose, to fill these jobs that are going vacant?
RR: We would like to see British workers trained up and skilled, and also the pay and conditions in the sector improved, to attract more people into the industry. But those wishes and that ambition isn’t going to get people petrol in their car today. It’s not going to fill the supermarket shelves today. People want these problems fixed and fixed now and rightly so.
CN: Your big announcement today is that you’re going to be cutting and then scrapping business rates, spell out who is going to pay for that.
RR: So we’ve proposed that the government could this year increase the digital services tax and ask some of those online giants, who have had a good year and a half because of the changing ways that we’re shopping and living our lives, to pay some more in tax. But we know that more fundamental change is needed, which is why we’ve said that we would scrap business rates altogether. One way that we could ease the burden on our high streets and our small businesses, is using some of the money that will be raised from the global minimum rate of corporation tax, which will start because of the proposals put forward by President Joe Biden, to tax some of those big businesses who don’t register for tax purposes in the countries where they do business.
CN: Online giants will pay for this?
RR: Yes, that is our plan that we can use digital services tax for one year only and then use the global minimum rates of corporation tax as one way of easing the burden on high street businesses so our high streets can thrive, while asking those with the broadest shoulders to make a greater contribution.
CN: You’re also pledging an extra £28 billion a year of green capital investment to help the battle against climate change. Will that be paid for by borrowing?
RR: So our climate investment pledge is that we would spend, during the course of this decade, an additional £28 billion a year to tackle the climate emergency. And the Office for Budget Responsibility and many others are saying the choice is not about whether to invest or not to invest, it’s whether to invest now or pay more and invest it later as the costs mount up.
CN: The national debt is currently 98% of gross domestic product. Inflation is going up. Most experts expect interest rates to follow. You’re taking a pretty big risk, aren’t you?
RR: Well, our fiscal rules will get our debt falling as a share of our national economy. That is a commitment that I’ve made. We will set out the details of that dependent on what the debt and the deficit are at the next election.
CN: It’s all a bit vague, though, isn’t it, when it comes down to details and numbers and your leader says that nothing is off the table when it comes to tax?
RR: Well, I’ve been very clear that I have no plans whatsoever to increase income tax. I am not looking at increasing income tax.
CN: No plans, but you don’t rule it out, you can’t rule it out?
RR: The only people that are increasing taxes for ordinary working people at the moment are the Conservatives who have broken their own manifesto commitment to increase national insurance on ordinary working families and also businesses. We have no plans to do that.
CN: You’re not making a cast iron commitment, so you can’t rule it out, so you can’t break your commitment because you’re not making one.
RR: I’m not even looking at that. I have no plans whatsoever to increase income tax.
CN: You and I both know that in the bars and the hotels around here, people are already talking about who the next Labour leader would be. In your view, would it be nice if it was a woman?
RR: I have no interest in this conversation. Keir Starmer is leader of the Labour Party. I am so proud to be his shadow chancellor. I’m absolutely focussed on reversing Labour’s trend of losing election after election.