Hunt Says Tory Donor’s Comments Are Racist, But Apology Should be Accepted

(Bloomberg) -- UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt said comments made by a top Conservative Party donor were “racist” and “despicable,” but the person has expressed remorse and the apology should be accepted.

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Hunt was responding to questions from lawmakers on the Treasury Committee about remarks made by Frank Hester, who along with his technology company The Phoenix Partnership donated a combined £10.2 million ($13.1 million) to the Tories last year.

The Guardian quoted Hester as making disparaging remarks about Diane Abbott, a Black member of Parliament for the Labour opposition. The newspaper cited him as saying Abbott makes him “want to hate all Black women” and that she “should be shot.”

Hester since has said his words “had nothing to do with her gender nor color of skin.”

However, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak described the alleged remarks as “racist and wrong” earlier.

Appearing Wednesday to answer questions about last week’s budget, Hunt was challenged by a Labour MP to say whether the Tories should return the donation.

“The comments were wrong, they were racist. He’s apologised for them and we should accept that apology. I don’t believe someone should be cancelled for comment they made in the past and for which they have apologized. But that does not make the comments any less despicable.”

Hunt also said official figures showing the economy grew 0.2% month in January were “encouraging” but acknowledged the economy is “not growing particularly fast at the moment because we are in a high interest environment.”

He rejected claims that the Treasury pre-briefed Martin Lewis, the living standards campaigner and founder of website MoneySavingExpert, about changes to child benefit rules in the budget.

Hunt said he was “not happy” that the centerpiece of his budget — a 2 percentage point cut to national insurance contributions — was widely reported before the budget was announced. However, he insisted the information was not intentionally leaked.

He went on to hit back at Labour claims that cutting the payroll tax will mean less funding for the National Health Service and the state pension, saying there is no link between them.

“If I thought it meant cutting funds for the NHS, I would vote against it,” he said, noting that Labour was not planning to oppose reducing national insurance.

The government wants to abolish what it calls a double taxation on work, though Hunt conceded that realizing that ambition could take well over a decade.

“I can’t give you a timescale because this is going to be the work of many parliaments,” he told the committee. “There are two very clear conditions upon which the delivery of this ambition depends. One is that it won’t be funded by borrowing and the other is that it won’t be funded by cuts to public services, so that means that ultimately it depends on the growth of the economy.”

(Adds comment on timescale for abolishing national insurance)

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