The annual UK Budget speech is coming up on March 19th, so it’s time to answer some of the most frequently asked questions.
What is the Budget box?
The red Budget box is one of the most iconic images of the Budget – you’ll see it being held aloft in Downing Street on the cover of most of the major newspapers the following morning.
It is covered in red leather and contains the Budget Speech itself. Many people forget that it is the Chancellor, not the Prime Minister, who holds it up – and when he does, he is usually on the steps of 11 Downing Street, not Number 10.
The Budget itself is called the Red Book, and published with a cover the same colour as its carry case; and even the word ‘budget’ comes from the old French ‘bougette’, meaning ‘little bag’.
Where is the old Budget box?
In 1997, the then-Chancellor Gordon Brown had a new Budget box made, effectively ‘retiring’ the one that had been used ever since William Gladstone introduced it in 1860.
Where is the old Budget box now? Well, there’s a good chance it will be in Downing Street on Budget day – Alistair Darling started using it again in the late Noughties.
Can the Chancellor drink?
Yes, the Chancellor can drink – probably one of the best-known pieces of Budget day trivia.
Previous Chancellors have opted for alcoholic drinks from the traditional (Kenneth Clarke preferred whisky) to the slightly more unusual (Gladstone opted for sherry with beaten egg).
With Scottish independence high on the agenda right now, it’s also worth noting that Gordon Brown reputedly chose Scottish Highlands springwater, for a taste of home while delivering the Budget.
How long will the speech last?
This is a popular one with the bookies, and you can usually get a ‘Specials’ bet on the speech being over or under a certain duration in minutes.
History tells us it’s hard to predict, though – Benjamin Disraeli delivered a brandy-fuelled 1867 Budget in just 45 minutes, while the egg-quaffing Gladstone’s 1853 speech holds the record as being the longest ever at four and three-quarter hours.
What happens next?
In principle, measures introduced in the Budget can be enacted immediately as part of the Finance Bill, which covers the tax changes announced in each speech, and can be voted on immediately upon the conclusion of the speech.
Usually there is a period of at least some grace – any increases in alcohol duty generally come into effect at midnight, for example – but no major delays in making the smaller, more ‘expected’ tax changes.
The Budget is also important because some taxes, including income tax, are officially ‘temporary’, meaning they must be voted on and re-introduced each year to remain in law.