Chancellor Philip Hammond has said the Government is prepared to meet the economic cost of sanctions against Russia over the nerve agent attack on a former spy and his daughter on UK soil.
Mr Hammond told The Yorkshire Post that the UK “had to defend ourselves against people who would undermine our security and democracy” no matter the cost following the attack 11 days ago on Sergei Skripal, 66, and daughter Yulia Skripal, 33, both of whom remain critically ill in hospital.
He also added that he considered the response of opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn to the Government’s decision to expel 23 Russian diplomats as “disappointing” and out of step with much of his party and the House of Commons.
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post during a visit to Bradford today, Mr Hammond added that he hoped that a pan Yorkshire devolution settlement could be achieved without compromising the deal already in place for Sheffield and Rotherham, who are due to elect a mayor this May.
Mr Hammond said: “I think that what you saw in Parliament yesterday was that when something like this happens, a national emergency and threat to our national security, Parliament comes together, party differences broadly are put side and people rally behind the Government broadly in the national interest.
“It was disappointing that the Leader of the Opposition did not feel able to share in what was the general mood of support and sense of national purpose.
“I am delighted that many Labour backbenchers, including very prominent Labour backbenchers, did rally behind the national mood yesterday and give a strong sense that we are united as a nation in defending ourselves against this completely unjustified and illegal attack.”
When asked about the potential cost of the sanctions Theresa May had imposed against Russia following the nerve agent attack, Mr Hammond said: “We have already sanctions in place as a result of the Litvinenko measures, and of course there is a cost in all of these things.
“But I think we have got to be absolutely clear in all of these things.
“We have got to defend ourselves against people who would undermine our security and democracy.
“We have got to be prepared to do that even if it comes at some cost.”
His views were backed by his deputy, the chief secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss, who said the spy attack would be considered as part of the Government’s ongoing defence modernisation review which will feed into spending plans.
She told the Yorkshire Post: “we are conducting a modernising defence review to look at, given the changes that are taking place, we do live in a very difficult situation at the moment, the unprecedented attack by the state of Russia on British soil is extremely worrying, and of course all of those things need to be taken into account, but we will be conducting a spending review next Spring looking at how we spend government money overall and of course looking at - that issue will be part of that review.”
Mr Hammond announced a raft of measures in last November’s budget to hand additional powers and spending to the regions in the country who had elected metro mayors, including Manchester, Tees Valley and Birmingham.
When asked if Yorkshire was at risk of falling behind the rest of the UK owing to its lack of progress in electing mayors, Mr Hammond said: “I announced in the Spring statement that there would be £840m that we announced in the Autumn budget for non-devolved cities in England is now open for bidding, so I hope that cities in Yorkshire that have not got devolved structures will bidding for that fund.
“But of course we are strong supporters of the devolved model. We believe that the best way to modernise the local economy and to drive local economies and drive local areas is to have devolved bodies that understand the opportunities and the challenges that each different city region face, so that you can tailor the response for the needs of the region.
“We are obviously committed to the Sheffield/Rotherham area and the mayoral election in May, but we are also in discussion with pan-Yorkshire leaders and the One Yorkshire approach and we very much hope that a way forward can be found that allows that to go ahead without undermining what has already been put in place in Sheffield and Rotherham.”
The Chancellor made his remarks during a visit to the BT OpenReach training centre in Bradford after the firm announced 3,500 new jobs nationwide and Government announced the roll out of its Nationwide Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme (GBVS), which will provide vouchers worth up to £3,000 for a small or medium sized business or £500 to residents to help with the costs of connecting to full fibre broadband.
When asked if the scheme would make up for the relative lack of announcements in this week’s Spring statement concerning the North’s economy, Mr Hammond said:
“The Spring statement had something in it for all of Britain. What I was very pleased to be able to record in the statement is that unemployment is down in every region, and employment is up in every region in the UK and that is a good achievement.
“And manufacturing at a 50 year best run of growth which is very good of the regions of the country which are strong on manufacturing, including Yorkshire and the Humber.
“But what we are doing here today is announcing 3,500 new jobs which is obviously very good news. And this centre will be the first of 12 across the country that are retraining Open Reach engineers to roll out the full fibre network.
“That’s critically important for Britain’s future, because full fibre technology is going to enable the technologies of the future.
By giving vouchers to small businesses we are creating the effective demand that will allow OpenReach and other suppliers to roll out this network, creating the kind of connectivity which will give the competitiveness for small businesses.
“So, I hope they will take up the scheme with enthusiasm.”