The Liberal Democrats only warned of the dangers of a VAT hike during the General Election because they were trying to "score points" over the Tories, Business Secretary Vince Cable has admitted.
Mr Cable said the increase to 20% in last week's Budget had been necessary to tackle the deficit, and insisted the overall package had protected the poor.
His strong defence of the move came despite polls suggesting that it has led to a slump in support for the Lib Dems.
Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, the Cabinet minister dodged questions about whether he was embarrassed by the campaign poster warning of a "Tory VAT bombshell".
"We were trying to score a point against the Conservatives, if you like," he said.
"Okay, well that was in the election. We have now moved past the election."
Mr Cable stressed that he had not posed with the poster, which was unveiled by his party leader Nick Clegg.
"I didn't (pose with the poster) actually. What I said repeatedly, and we had chancellors debates... we said over and over again VAT could not be ruled out. All three parties used exactly the same language."
Mr Cable denied that the Budget would hit those on lower incomes hardest, claiming that moves such as raising the income tax threshold offset the impact of the VAT rise.
"If you look at the package as a whole that makes the balance much better and more equitable," he said.