UK Party Leaders Trade Blows Over Sanctions-Induced Fuel Price Crisis
16:23 GMT 18.05.2022 (Updated: 16:24 GMT 18.05.2022)
British BM Boris Johnson stressed that there was always going to be a cost for "weaning ourselves off" Russian oil and gas imports — and reminded opposition MPs that they had all voted for sanctions on Moscow that have rebounded on the UK and its NATO allies.
Britain's prime minister and opposition leader have clashed in the Commons over Labour's demand for a "windfall tax" on energy firms' profits.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer
claimed at Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday that Boris Johnson
was delaying an "inevitable U-turn" on backing his call for a Robin Hood tax on oil and gas giants like BP and Shell, who were raking in the profits from soaring fossil fuel prices amid Russia's special military operation in Ukraine.
The Conservative Parliamentary majority voted down a Labour motion backing the move on Tuesday.
The official opposition has in recent weeks proposed spending the money they claim could be raised on cutting household bills — ultimately channelling the money back to the energy extracting corporations via intermediary billing firms and regional energy suppliers.
"A one-off tax on huge oil and tax [sic] profits would raise billions of pounds, cutting energy bills across the country," Starmer said, asking if the PM was "for it, is it against it, or is he sitting on the fence like his chancellor" Rishi Sunak, who he said had claimed to be in neither camp.
After poking fun at Starmer's reluctance to define what a woman is in recent interviews, the PM insisted that "this government is not in principle in favour of higher taxation", although Sunak announced a staged increase in corporation tax to 26 percent in his budget last autumn, whoch Labour opposed.
"They love it, Mr Speaker!" Johnson exclaimed. "They love putting up taxes!"
He boasted that new figures showed unemployment was at its lowest level since 1974 when Labour leader Harold Wilson returned to government.
Pointing to contradictory statements from government ministers, Starmer asked when Johnson would "stop the hokey-cokey and just back Labour's plan for a windfall tax to cut household bills
"Labour's plans are always and everywhere to raise taxes on business," Johnson retorted, insisting that "this country and the world faces problems in the cost of energy," driven by a combination of the COVID-19 pandemic and what he called "Putin's war of choice in the Ukraine."
"We always knew there would be a short-term cost in weaning ourselves off Putin's hydrocarbons and in sanctioning the Russian economy," Johnson stressed, pointing out that "Everybody in this house voted for those sanctions."
But he promised to consider "all measures" needed to "get people through to the other side."
"He just doesn't get it, does he?" Starmer said, to a round of pantomime from his own benches. "He doesn't actually understand what working families are going through in this country, struggling about how they're gonna pay their bills" said the millionaire career lawyer. "Meanwhile, every single day, North Sea oil and gas giants rake in £32 million in unexpected profits."
BP wrote off a loss of some $25 billion (£20 billion) in late February after announcing it would its near-20 percent stake in Russian national oil company Rosneft just days after the military operation was launched.
Johnson hit back that the government had already budgeted £22 billion to help households with rising bills and said that was only possible thanks to the economic recovery brought about by ending lockdown when the opposition wanted to extend it.
Starmer also listed several business leaders who he claimed were in favour of his windfall tax.
Johnson said that oil companies were "on track to invest about £70 billion into our economy over the next few years" and were already taxed at a rate of 40 percent.
And he repeated his frequently-made point that the last Labour government had cancelled investment in new nuclear power stations.
"The people who are suffering from high energy prices in this country today, Mr Speaker, have previous Labour governments to blame for that mistake," he accused.
Earlier on Wednesday, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss
hinted that the big firms' profits would be better spent on new oil and gas fields or renewable energy projects.
"What we need is for these energy companies to be investing in more energy supplies in the United Kingdom, so we're not dependent on the global oil price," Truss said.
But Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng recently stressed that the price of domestically-produced oil and gas was determined by the global market.