David Cameron was yesterday accused of rush-releasing Government plans for minimum alcohol pricing to try to deflect attention from the Budget.
Anger erupted in the Commons as Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper attacked Ministers for using procedures normally reserved for national emergencies.
Downing Street made no attempt to deny Labour’s claim that the Government’s long-awaited response to the consultation on minimum alcohol pricing had been brought forward, having originally been scheduled for Monday.
It followed two days of hostile headlines, with newspapers across the political spectrum criticising Chancellor George Osborne’s so-called “granny tax” and his plans to bring more than a million middle-income earners into the higher-rate tax band while cutting the 50p tax rate for top earners.
Ms Cooper said MPs had been given just two hours’ notice of the Commons statement by Home Secretary Theresa May after newspapers were briefed about the plans on Thursday night.
The Pontefract and Castleford MP told the half-empty chamber that in the past 10 years there had been only three Government statements in the Commons on Fridays – a day normally reserved for backbench business – all relating to national emergencies involving the Iraq War, swine flu and Libya.
“What is the national emergency today?” she demanded. “The only emergency is that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have gone wobbly over the coverage of their Budget. Their Budget has gone wrong because pensioners are furious about the granny tax, because middle-earners are shocked to discover they will be paying the higher rate and everyone else is furious to discover they are bringing in a £10,000 tax break for the highest earners in the country, including, we discover, half the Cabinet.