Leading article

£2 litre of fuel demands urgent action on cost of living

EVEN by the dismally Trumpian standards of Boris Johnson and his lacklustre cabinet, this has been a week in which the government has got its priorities entirely wrong.

It has preferred to focus on political posturing around the NI Protocol, a task it has gone about with customary antagonism and ignorance, blithely proposing to tear up the 'oven ready' deal struck with the European Union only a short time ago.

This has been concocted to serve the present British government's narrow and selfish interests, in particular Mr Johnson's as he clings to power. The DUP support the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, though this once again ties them to what may widely be regarded as the inevitably doomed position of trusting Mr Johnson.

Whatever one's view of the protocol, at this moment it is entirely wrong to be prioritising it above tackling the surge in the cost of living.

This has rapidly escalated into a crisis, and the government does not seem to be acting with the urgency or focus it brought to bear on the coronavirus pandemic. This is a monumental mistake.

Interest rates rose once again this week, with the Bank of England setting the rate at 1.25 per cent – the highest level since 2009. This seems certain to rise further in coming months.

The bank has also warned that inflation will exceed 11 per cent by the autumn, with some economists forecasting food price inflation to reach 15 per cent.

Tesco, regarded as an economic bellwether, is already feeling the effects. It reported yesterday that its sales had fallen, saying that there were signs of "changing customer behaviour as a result of the inflationary environment".

Perhaps the most shocking examples of soaring costs are seen on the forecourts. The price of a litre of petrol or diesel has broken the £2 barrier – a psychological threshold which in practical terms means filling the tank of an average family car is more than £100.

These apparently inexorable rises at the pumps come on top of similarly rapid and exponential increases in home heating oil and gas.

Taken together, we are faced with the worst squeeze on household budgets since the 1970s. This is worrying for all, but a source of genuine despair for the most vulnerable in our community.

The government must act decisively to ease the burden, especially where fuel is concerned, for example by cutting duty again. This, not protocol bluster, must be its priority in the days ahead.

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Leading article