Chancellor Rishi Sunak has insisted the government will not speed up its timetable on easing lockdown even if the vaccines work better than expected.

He said the Prime Minister had taken a ‘cautious but irreversible approach’ with his road map but there was a ‘sense of confidence and optimism about the future’.

Asked whether, if the data was better than expected, the PM’s road map could happen quicker, he told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday: ‘That’s why we’ve taken the approach that we have and those will be the earliest dates that we think we can do the various things we’ve laid out. 

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‘But we’re doing everything we can to make sure that it is hopefully irreversible, that’s what we want to see.’

He added: ‘What businesses don’t want is a stop-start approach to this, we want to know that it’s a one-way road and that’s why it’s cautious. 

‘We’ve given the earliest of dates to give a sense of timing and a sense of direction and then obviously we might have to adjust those if things are not going exactly as we would like, but look the early signs are promising.’

The chancellor said the good efficacy of vaccines and the high level of take-up was great news and data showed the vaccination programme was working.

He added that should give us confidence in the progression of the road map. 

Under the road map, schools will reopen on March 8.

Non-essential retailers in England will reopen no earlier than April 12 and bars and restaurants will be able to serve customers outdoors in limited numbers.

Full restrictions on the hospitality industry will not be lifted before June 21.

Meanwhile Sunak has refused to rule out tax increases to plug £43 billion black hole’ in the economy caused by the effects of the lockdown.

He has been tight-lipped about reports he plans to have 1.6 million people pay a higher tax rate by the next general election.

The increases would raise around £6 billion as part of a ‘pathway’ to finding an extra £43 billion a year, which is necessary due to the bill for paying for the coronavirus response.

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He is expected to reveal the rises in the Budget on Wednesday, the Sunday Times reported.

The paper said the Chancellor will freeze for at least three years the threshold at which people start paying the income tax basic rate (£12,500) and the point when people start paying the higher 40p rate of tax (£50,000).

The Tories pledged not to raise the headline rates of income tax, VAT, and national insurance in their manifesto.

If it goes ahead, this reported plan will not breach the pledge, but some MPs will likely see it as a breach in spirit.

During his Sky interview, Mr Sunak did not deny that he plans to increase taxes soon before slashing them in a pre-election Budget.

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