Spring statement may be brought forward in race to deliver Brexit

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Philip Hammond is planning to publish economic forecasts just three weeks before Britain is forced to leave the EU, Sky News has learnt.

The chancellor is due to deliver his spring statement on 11 March, when he will provide MPs with an update on the UK’s economic outlook.

The forecasts are expected to show a slowdown in growth, but government figures told Sky News that No 11 was viewing this as a holding statement amid Brexit uncertainty.

It is widely expected that the chancellor will have to deliver an emergency budget should Britain leave the EU with no deal.

There is also a chance that the statement will be accelerated to February to free up parliamentary time to pass Brexit legislation.

A source said: “There’s talk of having it moved forward to get legislation to pass the Withdrawal Agreement Bill if they decide, in the end, to back Theresa May’s deal.”

There is already huge pressure on parliament – and MPs may need to work longer and lose their February half-term break as they race to pass legislation if Brexit is to be delivered on time.

One senior government source told Sky News last week that ministers were bracing for a Brexit delay – whether there is a deal or no deal – in an admission there might not be enough time to get the necessary legislation through.

If Mrs May does manage to pass her deal, she would then need to get a Withdrawal Amendment Bill through the House of Commons against the backdrop of a very tight timetable.

“I personally think we should sit all the hours we have got to get it sorted by 29 March,” the source said.

“But we could ask for more time, which is likely to be agreed by the EU.”

But the real difficulties would come in the event of no deal, with the source pointing out that six bills would need to pass before 29 March – including the immigration bill to sort out citizens’ rights, the agriculture bill and the trade bill – if there is no deal.

The source added: “It’s a car crash isn’t it? The government would have to try pass [bills] in some form by 29 March or find another way to do necessary legislation – the risk is then not having a clear legal basis to take necessary actions.”

Mr Hammond is also expected to have a spending review this year to set out departmental budgets up to five years ahead.

However, uncertainty about the UK’s future economic relationship with the EU could prompt the chancellor to limit the scope of this year’s review.

Senior government sources suggest the spending review next spring could be restricted to a single-year cycle, given concerns the government would lack the authority in parliament to push through longer-term plans.

Some in government believe the uncertainty around Brexit and the future economic partnership – which has yet to be negotiated – could make anything other than a one-year “emergency” spending review impossible.

(c) Sky News 2019: Spring statement may be brought forward in race to deliver Brexit

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