The Chancellor found himself presenting his second Spring Statement sandwiched between a series of crucial Brexit votes. His speech was peppered with references to the need to achieve a smooth exit from the EU. Beyond that, Mr Hammond chose to keep the Statement a low-key affair.
The Spring Statement had no new tax proposals and indeed deferred any extension of Making Tax Digital (MTD). However, the Chancellor did introduce various consultations, early-stage discussion papers and calls for evidence. These covered a wide range of topics, stretching from a forthcoming review of the National Living Wage to the development of a low carbon Future Homes Strategy. One notable absentee from the Chancellor’s consultation list was the second part of the Office of Tax Simplification’s review of inheritance tax, which had been promised for Spring 2019.
The Statement was formally a response to the latest Economic and Financial Outlook from the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR). This between-Budgets review contained mostly good news for the Chancellor, with forecasts of improved tax revenues and only a minor overall reduction to growth prospects.
In theory, the Chancellor now has about seven months to prepare for his Autumn Budget and issue many of his promised papers. In practice, it seems likely that the Brexit ‘cloud of uncertainty’ could constrain his actions again.