Chancellor Rishi Sunak has used Twitter to cool the jets of a section of the media after a flurry of reports suggested the popular August restaurant discount scheme Eat Out to Help Out could be making a return this winter.
The origin of the story is with Sunak himself, who appeared on Sky News this morning and didn’t, for obvious reasons, completely rule out the return of a wildly successful economic policy, even if some fairly big question marks remain hanging over its relationship to the transmission of COVID-19 in the U.K.
Regardless, it didn’t take The Sun long to publish a story under the headline: “WINTER WARMER Rishi Sunak won’t rule out another Eat Out to Help Out to ‘get consumers spending again’ after lockdown.”
To Sky’s Ed Conway, who asked if the £10 voucher scheme, used over 100 million times in August at a cost of £522 million to the Treasury, would be reintroduced post-lockdown, Sunak said: “I won’t talk about specific measures, but more broadly I think it’s right that when we finally exit this [lockdown] and hopefully next year with testing and maybe indeed vaccines as well, we’ll be able to start to look forward to getting back to normal.”
The Chancellor added: “We’ll have to look forward to the economic situation then and see what the best form of our support. We want to get the economy going strongly [...] We want to get consumers spending again — people out and about, we’ll look at a range of things to see what the right interventions are at that time.”
Importantly, The Sun’s report adds: “The Chancellor refused to commit to any specific measures that could be rolled out, and Treasury sources downplayed the prospect of a new Eat Out to Help Out Scheme.”
Sunak has not publicly denied or contradicted the stories himself, but instead chose to point to a tweet by the Observer’s Sonia Sodha, who wrote: “Ok Rishi Sunak def didn’t drop hints he would be reintroducing eat out to help out on Sky having read the quotes so please let’s stop sharing that overclaim-y headline.”
Case closed? Probably not: The course of the virus is uncertain. The economic impact of lockdown is uncertain. The measures used to mitigate economic damage are unknown because of the above. But for the economy to recover, hospitality has to recover, so a return of Eat Out to Help Out is not beyond the realms of possibility. It’s probably why Sunak didn’t completely rule out its return.