UK’s Fragile Government Faces Challenge Over Austerity

Britain’s Conservative minority government faced its first test in Parliament since the June 8 election on Wednesday — an opposition demand for an end to public spending cuts.

The main opposition Labour Party called for a pay raise for public-sector workers, whose salaries have been capped during seven years of austerity, and an end to cuts to police and firefighting budgets.

Labour’s proposal came after several days of debate on last week’s Queen’s Speech, which laid out government plans for the next two years.

A vote will take place in Parliament at around 7 p.m. (1800 GMT; 2 p.m. EDT).

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said that after recent disasters and deadly attacks in the country, it was clear that “you can’t have safety and security on the cheap.”

“It is plain to see that seven years of cuts to our emergency services has made us less safe,” he said. “It’s time to make a change.”

The Conservatives have slashed public spending since 2010 in an attempt to reduce Britain’s deficit, introducing cuts to welfare benefits and reducing the funds local authorities use to pay for key services.

Weariness with austerity was a factor driving voters in this month’s early general election away from the Conservatives and toward Labour, which promised during the election campaign to boost spending.

The election left the Conservatives several votes short of a parliamentary majority and severely undermined the authority of Prime Minister Theresa May, who called the snap vote in a misjudged attempt to increase her grip on power.

A victory for Labour in Wednesday’s vote could topple May’s government, but her administration is likely to survive thanks to a deal May reached this week with 10 lawmakers from Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party. The Democratic Unionists have agreed to support the Tories on key votes.

In a possible sign of compromise, ministers suggested they might ease up on austerity and lift a wage cap that has limited public sector pay increases to as little as 1 percent a year.

Treasury chief Philip Hammond said the Conservatives were “not deaf” to the message delivered by the election.

May faces another test Thursday, when lawmakers are due to vote on whether to approve the government’s legislative program for the next two years.


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