Rishi Sunak and Kwasi Kwarteng clash over help for British factories

Kwasi Kwarteng

The Treasury yesterday accused the business secretary of “making things up” after he said he was in talks with Rishi Sunak about helping businesses struggling with high energy prices.

Amid warnings that some factories were days from collapse because the large amounts of energy they consume had become too expensive, Kwasi Kwarteng suggested that he was discussing possible measures with the chancellor to alleviate the crisis. But in a highly unusual rebuke the Treasury swiftly denied that any talks had taken place, saying that Kwarteng had made no request to Sunak for support.

The intervention came little more than an hour after Kwarteng said that he was “very clear” that “we need to help [businesses] get through this situation”. He told Sky News: “It’s a difficult situation — gas prices, electricity prices are at very high levels right across the world and of course I’m speaking to government colleagues, particularly in the Treasury, to try and see a way through this.”

Soon afterwards on the BBC Kwarteng said: “I’ve not asked for billions. We’ve got existing schemes. I’m working very closely with Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, to get us through this situation.” He described the situation as “critical”.

At this point a Treasury source issued the stinging slapdown. “This is not the first time the [business] secretary has made things up in interviews,” they said. “To be crystal clear, the Treasury are not involved in any talks.” The source insisted they were merely “correcting the record” but it was a highly unusual intervention for a government that rarely lets tensions erupt in public.

Appearing on Times Radio’s T&G after the Treasury made clear its discontent with his comments, Kwarteng nevertheless insisted there were “lots of conversations” taking place with Sunak’s department about how to support businesses. He said he had not “asked him for anything” but that “we are always in conversation with the Treasury and we’re always talking about how we can support British business.