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John McDonnell: I’m sorry if people thought I was arrogant over borrowing

The shadow chancellor said he had not wanted to get drawn into an argument that would undermine the fundamental idea that now was the time for the UK to borrow to invest.

John McDonnell has apologised if he came across as arrogant after he refused to say how much it would cost to service the borrowing needed to fund Labour’s infrastructure plans.

The shadow chancellor said he had not wanted to get drawn into an argument that would undermine the fundamental idea that now was the time for the UK to borrow to invest.

His comments came as shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner said it would be foolish to try to predict the economy in 15 years’ time, as he ruled out giving a date for when Labour would eliminate the deficit.

On Thursday Mr McDonnell said it was “trite journalism” when asked how much extra would need to be spent on servicing debt under a Labour government, suggesting that specific figures could be got from iPads and advisers.

Speaking on ITV’s Peston on Sunday, Mr McDonnell said: “I’m sorry if people thought I was arrogant.

“What I was trying to do is not get dragged down into an argument which prevents people realising that we actually do need to invest.

“And what happens is that to get a headline, what will happen is people will go ‘how much is this going to cost’.”

He went on to say: “The point I’m making, and I’m sorry if I annoyed people, the point I’m making is I didn’t want the argument around a relatively low figure of what it would cost to undermine the real argument, which is this.

“That that investment, as you know, wisely invested in our infrastructure, tackling our productivity problem, growing our economy, pays for itself.”

Mr McDonnell was asked about an Institute for Fiscal Studies figure, which suggested the additional interest would be around £2 billion a year, minus any nationalisation projects.

“I can’t predict it. I’m being straight with you here,” said Mr McDonnell in reply.

“As you know, government borrowing through bonds etc at the moment, the rate is anything between 0.4 and 1.8.

“I can’t tell when we go into government what that rate will be.

“What I can say is that the rates are at historic lows, this is the time to borrow.”

Treasury watchdog the Office for Budget Responsibility this week suggested that the budget deficit will not be wiped out until 2031.

Appearing on BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show, when asked when the deficit would be eliminated under Labour’s plans, Mr Gardiner said: “No, I’m not going to say that at all.”

He went on to say: “You’ve just heard one of our most eminent economists tell you that what, in your words, was ‘we’ve drawn a line, and it could be on either side of it’.

“Anybody who wants to forecast what our economy is going to be like in 2031 here, 14, 15 years ahead of that date, when we have not even determined what the Brexit negotiations are going to look like, would be foolish.”

Mr Gardiner said Labour would ensure the deficit would be reducing within five years, and that the economy would be growing under Jeremy Corbyn’s plans, making the deficit less of a burden.

A Labour spokesman said: “Labour’s fiscal credibility rule is quite clear, we will set out plans to eliminate the current budget deficit over a five-year time frame.

“We will only borrow to invest and that additional investment will help drive economic growth.

“Labour have been very clear with what our fiscal targets are and when we will meet them unlike the Tories, who originally claimed they would eliminate the budget deficit in 2015, but they are now not expected to do so until the 2030s due to their lack of investment in our economy.”

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