Jeremy Hunt has downplayed expectations ahead of his spring budget, saying he wants to “show a path” towards lower taxes rather than signalling a significant giveaway.

Rishi Sunak hinted at last week’s Scottish Tory conference that a national insurance cut might be announced on Wednesday, saying such a move would be “Union tax cut”.

However in a series of interviews today, the Chancellor stressed responsibility and prudence, potentially dismaying Tory MPs looking for a pre-election boost.

Appearing on BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme, he ruled out borrowing to pay for cuts and any reductions had to be “sustainable” and “affordable”. 

He said: “I do want, where it is possible to do so responsibly, to move towards a lower tax economy, and I hope to show a path in that direction.

“This will be a prudent and responsible Budget for long-term growth, tackling inflation, more investment, more jobs and that path to lower taxation as and when we can afford that.”

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In his autumn statement last November, Mr Hunt cut the main rate of national insurance from 12 to 10%, and ensured that it took effect from January, rather than in the new tax year.

On Sky News’ Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips programme, he said that had been a “turning point” and he hoped to “make some progress on that journey” this week.

He said: ““It is going to be a prudent and responsible budget for long-term growth.

“When it comes to tax cuts, I do believe that if you look around the world, countries with lower tax tend to grow faster - North America, Asia - and so I do think in the long run we need to move back to being a lower taxed, more lightly regulated economy.

“It would be deeply unconservative to cut taxes in a way that increased borrowing [and] wasn’t fully funded.

“People need to know that these are tax cuts you can really afford, so it will be responsible and everything I do will be affordable.”

The Sunday Times reported that the spending watchdog the Office for Budget Responsibility had told the Chancellor on Wednesday that he had £12.8billion of headroom to play with – £2bn less than the figure the Treasury had been using in its calculations.

The paper said Mr Hunt was due to meet the Prime Minister this evening for a final decision on whether a 2p cut to the basic rate of income tax is affordable in the Budget.

Because of the way Holyrood’s funding is calculated, a 2p cut in income tax would not be mirrored north of the border, but would mean more funding for the Scottish Government.

A cut in national insurance would apply UK-wide, but would not benefit pensioners - a key voter demographic for the Tories - as they do not pay NICs.

With Mr Sunak confirming last week that the general election would be this year, not January 2025, Wednesday’s statement is widely expected to be Mr Hunt’s last before polling day.

He said he still expected to be Chancellor by the election, and hoped to continue after it.

Mr Hunt is reportedly considering abolishing “non-dom” tax status to raise money, despite having strenuously resisted the idea in the past. 

Non-domiciled status allows foreign nationals who live in the UK, but are officially resident overseas, to avoid paying UK tax on their overseas income or capital gains.

The Prime Minister’s wife Akshata Murty previously enjoyed non-dom status.

Labour has said it would scrap the tax break to save around £2bn a year.

Labour’s shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said it would be an “abject humiliation” for the Tories if they copied Labour’s plan after years of “rubbishing this idea”.

She said: “If they were to do it it would just demonstrate that it is Labour who are leading the charge when it comes to the battle of ideas in this country”. 

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In a further ill-omen for the Tories, Mr Hunt refused to guarantee that the roll-out of 15 hours of free childcare for two-years in England would go as planned from April.

The Chancellor announced last year that eligible families of children as young as nine months will be able to claim 30 hours of free childcare a week by 2025.

He told the BBC he was confident the scheme was “on track”, but noted it was a “huge change” ultimately requiring employing 40,000 more people in a staged introduction.

“You will understand why I don’t want to give an absolute guarantee. “But am I confident that we are delivering this programme and it will be on track for this April? Yes, I am.”

Labour said it believed 180,000 free childcare places across England could be at risk due to 3,00 nursery closures

Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said her party’s findings leave the Conservatives’ childcare promise “in absolute tatters”.