Brexit will make it even tougher for the Government to roll back on its austerity programme, Nick Clegg has told Sky News.
The former deputy prime minister said Boris Johnson and Michael Gove were partly responsible for the squeeze facing families around the country, accusing the pair of shedding “crocodile tears” in their recent calls to lift the cap on public sector pay.
In an exclusive interview, Mr Clegg said the “cruel paradox” is that “leaving the EU makes it much harder to alleviate the effects of austerity (because) the economy’s going to be weaker”.
He said: “There’s no single analysis that says a great trading nation unplugging itself from the world’s largest open marketplace and the world’s largest export market is going to do anything other than hit growth and prosperity.”
Mr Clegg added: “Here’s the cruel irony – why is inflation rising again? It’s because of our decision to leave the EU.
“It’s pretty rich for Brexiteers to shed crocodile tears about the pressure on public sector pay when it’s their determination to pull us out of the EU that led to the new pressure on take-home pay.
“It’s unbelievable: the gall, the chutzpah of Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, to say ‘absolutely, these poor nurses’ and so on, when it was their advocacy of Brexit that’s now leading to the renewed pressure on take-home pay for millions of people up and down the country.”
Image: Mr Clegg criticised Boris Johnson for creating pressure on take-home pay
Mr Clegg’s comments come amid growing speculation that the Government may relax its programme of public sector cuts in the coming months.
Research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies on Wednesday suggested ministers could stop reducing the budget deficit and still shrink total national debt in the coming years – but Chancellor Philip Hammond has yet to signal any major changes ahead of his winter Budget.
However, support is growing for changes.
While the existing Government plans include further spending cuts and also more tax cuts, a Sky Data poll has found that 56% of people would support an increase in state spending even if they had to pay more in taxes.
Although the total amount spent by the Government is slightly higher than in 2010, this is largely down to an increase in spending on benefits and pensions (mainly the latter), which are up by 6.1% since 2010/11.
Spending on departments, on the other hand, has been slashed by 14%.
Much of the burden in cutting costs has been borne by local authorities, which, in turn, have cut services.
In Sheffield, the central library has been put up for sale, following calculations that the council would be unable to afford the £30m repair bill.
The majority of libraries around the city are now run by volunteers, after more than half of the library employees were cut.
Public sector workers are also facing unprecedented strain after a seventh successive year of pay freezes and caps.
Mr Clegg, who lost his Sheffield Hallam seat in the election in May, said the pay restrictions should be lifted, and more should be spent on investment.