UK goes on a spending spree

LONDON — If it wasn’t for the coronavirus, we’d be calling it the Dominic Cummings budget.

The U.K.’s post-Brexit economic roadmap — laid out by the country’s fresh-faced Chancellor Rishi Sunak on Wednesday — was the fiscal realization of Boris Johnson and his chief adviser’s reinvention of the ruling Conservative Party.

It rammed the final nail in the coffin of 10 years of Tory austerity economics, opened the coffers on billions of pounds in spending on infrastructure and (some) public services, and placed a heavy emphasis on science and technological innovation. In other words, it was the Cummings formula that  — combined with the promise to “get Brexit done” — proved so popular with British voters in last year’s general election.

Nevertheless, the headline figure wasn’t part of the plan until a matter of weeks ago: a £12 billion package to help the U.K. economy endure the worst of the coronavirus outbreak.

Coronavirus, Sunak said, will have a “significant impact” on both the supply and demand side of the economy. “But it will be temporary,” he said. “People will return to work. Supply chains will return to normal. Life will return to normal. For a period, it’s going to be tough. But I’m confident that our economic performance will recover.”

The Office for Budget Responsibility called it the biggest giveaway budget since 1992

Nevertheless, the independent fiscal watchdog the Office for Budget Responsibility conceded that its economic forecasts, which underpin the budget and were drawn up before the outbreak escalated, had to some extent been “overtaken by coronavirus” — an admission that no one can predict with confidence what the U.K.

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