United Kingdom

Rishi Sunak tells Tory MPs Italy and Greece are 'opening up' economies

In a call with Conservative backbenchers, Chancellor Rishi Sunak made the point that Greece and Italy were already 'opening up' their economies

There were more signs of Cabinet tensions over coronavirus lockdown today as it emerged Rishi Sunak told Tory MPs the UK must not be 'the only place in the world' where pubs are closed.

In a call with Conservative backbenchers, the Chancellor made the point that Greece and Italy were already 'opening up' their economies.

He reportedly said lifting the shutters on UK plc was the 'single best way to help tourism in this country'. 

Mr Sunak is believed to be one of the most hawkish Cabinet members on the need to loosen the lockdown as soon as possible - as the restrictions threaten to wipe a third off GDP and destroy millions of jobs.

There have been suggestions his stance is at odds with Boris Johnson, who has been promising to exercise 'maximum caution' on any easing. 

According to the Financial Times, Mr Sunak swiped at the 'very cautious' experts on the government's SAGE advisory body during the recent call with MPs.   

One MP said: 'Rishi said the scientists on Sage were very cautious and that if we believed in opening up the tourism sector we had to make the case for it.' 

Mr Sunak apparently told the conference call: 'Somehow Greece and Italy are opening up. 

'This country can't be the only place in the world where people can't go and have a drink in the pub.' 

There have been suggestions Mr Sunak's stance is at odds with Boris Johnson (pictured at No10 this week), who has been promising to exercise 'maximum caution' on any easing

According to one of those on the call, Mr Sunak said: 'The single best way to help tourism in this country is to allow people to open up.'

Aides to the Chancellor refused to comment on private discussions.

'Obviously he believes, and has said before, that the best way to protect jobs is to start opening up the economy, but it has to be done in safe way,' a source said.

They dismissed claims of tensions with the PM as 'made up'.

There were fresh warnings about looming tax hikes and austerity yesterday as figures showed the government borrowed a record £62.1billion in April.

The eye-watering figure was more than double predictions from analysts, amid desperate moves to bail out millions of workers and businesses.

It means the government borrowed almost as much in April alone as it did in the whole of the last financial year. 

The sum is thought to have pushed total public debt to the brink of the £2trillion mark for the first time - roughly the same size as the entire economy. 

Ex-Chancellor George Osborne warned there will have to be 'hard choices', while the respected IFS think-tank cautioned there is no guarantee the economy will recover quickly enough to avoid belt-tightening. 

But Tory MPs have insisted there must be no rush to pay off the enormous liabilities, suggesting instead it should be treated like 'wartime' debate and allowed to subside over decades.  

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said borrowing was £51.1 billion higher in April than the same month last year

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