Britain is taxed "as highly as the country can afford", a Cabinet minister has warned Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak ahead of the Budget next month.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, the House of Commons leader, said Britain was now as "highly taxed" as at any time since the Second War and it was "false" to suggest more tax rises were necessary.
In an interview with today’s Chopper’s Politics Podcast, Mr Rees-Mogg also said that the UK needed more people to generate wealth to fund public services.
He also said that it was "rational" for people to want to fill up their cars during the recent fuel crisis, and said that levelling up also meant diverting cash to Conservative seats in the south of England.
Mr Rees-Mogg’s comments come after Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak broke a manifesto pledge by increasing National Insurance in a £36 billion tax raid to pay for the NHS and social care.
Pre-Budget shot across the bows
The comments will be seen as a shot across the bows from one of the most anti-tax Cabinet ministers ahead of the Oct 27 Budget and a challenge to Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak to ease the tax burden ahead of the next general election.
In the podcast, Mr Rees-Mogg was challenged by an audience of sixth formers from a comprehensive school in Hertfordshire about why billionaires do not pay more tax to fund public services.
Leader of the Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg: 'The idea that there is all this extra tax to be plucked out is simply false. If we are to have a strong and growing economy, we are taxed as highly as the country can afford'
Credit: Victoria Jones/PA Wire
He replied: "We are as highly taxed in this country as we have been up pretty much since the War, certainly since Harold Wilson was Prime Minister.
"The idea that there is all this extra tax to be plucked out is simply false. If we are to have a strong and growing economy, we are taxed as highly as the country can afford.
"So actually if you increase taxes, you will find there is less money, partly because billionaires can just leave and then you don’t get any money from them at all.
"But also because taxation lowers economic growth and it’s economic growth that we need to be able to pay the benefits and for the health service and so on that as a country we want to do."
UK tax take highest in 70 years – Burden of tax as a % of GDP
Mr Rees-Mogg added: "The Conservative Party has always been the party of low taxation and sound money. And sometimes there’s a tension between the two."
In a week when the Labour party conference heard calls for a wealth tax on the richest people in Britain, Mr Rees-Mogg said the UK needed their taxes to fund public services.
He said: "The more billionaires you have, the more tax revenue you have, the more you can afford to do, the stronger the economy you have."
People who paid the "45 per cent tax on their income. They pay a surcharge on dividend income, so they are contributing. Indeed, they are the primary funders of the public services that we enjoy".
Filing up tanks
Elsewhere in the interview, which was conducted in front of an audience of sixth formers from St George’s School, in Harpenden, Mr Rees-Mogg defended motorists who had filled up their tanks as fears of petrol shortages swept the country.
Motorists who put a jerry can in their cars had "seen what was going on" and "were being cautious", he said adding: "This is the very interesting thing about behaviour. What is rational for people individually, collectively can be difficult for the country as a whole."
Mr Rees-Mogg also called for more Britons to get back to work in offices and for doctors to start to see their patients in person now that the threat of Covid-19 to life is easing.
He said it was "most unsatisfactory" that doctors were not seeing patients for in-person appointments adding that some of his constituents had been "told off" for going to their local GP’s surgery.
He said: "The Government doesn’t have the direct power of instruction, but we all ought to be getting back to work. We need to be seeing people.
"We need to be getting back into our offices and GPs need to be seeing their patients. That is what they’re paid for."
Asked to define the term "levelling up" (a core part of the Government’s policy) Mr Rees-Mogg said it meant improving areas of the south of England like his Somerset constituency.
He said: "Levelling up is making sure that people across the country have the opportunities that are available in the best off parts of the country."
Mr Rees-Mogg pointed to how parts of North Somerset which used to have large coal mining communities "have been depressed for some years, but have been improving recently because of redevelopment".
Levelling up: The Northern Research Group could become Johnson’s Achilles’ heel
Asked whether he agreed that for a person to be a woman they had to have a cervix, Mr Rees-Mogg said: "I don’t particularly define people by bodily parts.
"I think you need to think of the whole person, the creation of God and what God has created is a person. And that person is born male or female."
Mr Rees-Mogg disclosed that he enjoyed a McDonald’s quarter pounder if he could take out the gherkins and failed to say whether he stood by a childhood pledge to be Prime Minister by the time he was 70 years old.
He said: "I want the Prime Minister to carry on being prime minister well past my 70th birthday. It’s about time we had somebody overtake Walpole’s record [of 21 years in office]."
Mr Rees-Mogg urged the students watching the interview at the Red Lion pub on Whitehall to consider getting involved in politics if "they are concerned about the future of their nation".
He said: "If you have been given the privilege of a fantastic education, you have teachers who are dedicated to ensuring that you do absolutely your best: don’t you want to give something back to your country?
"You’ve been given that opportunity and therefore, don’t you want to rise to the challenge? And don’t you think ‘somebody’s got to do it’?
"And shouldn’t it therefore be somebody of your ability, rather perhaps somebody who would do less well? So it’s as much about duty as anything."
Listen to Christopher Hope’s full interview with Jacob Rees-Mogg on Chopper’s Politics, The Telegraph’s weekly political podcast, using the audio player above, on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts.