British leaders warn of big cuts as crunch budget looms

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British Prime Minister David Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg both warned Sunday of heavy cuts in public expenditure ahead of an emergency budget later this month which will bid to slash a huge deficit.

Their new coalition government took office last month and its top priority is to cut public borrowing, which soared to 156.1 billion pounds in 2009/2010.

Cameron warned of "pain" ahead and indicated that welfare payments and public sector pay could be cut in the June 22 budget.

"The country has got an overdraft," Cameron told the Sunday Times newspaper.

"The interest on that overdraft is swallowing up things that the nation should otherwise be spending money on.

"We have got to take people with us on this difficult journey."

He added that the previous Labour government under Gordon Brown had left the country with "totally irresponsible" debt levels and suggested that sales tax could increase, while a planned capital gains tax rise may be watered down.

Cameron's Conservatives and Clegg's Liberal Democrats are in a coalition government, Britain's first since World War II.

The government has already revealed details of plans to cut 6.25 billion pounds (8.9 billion dollars, 7.2 billion euros) although the plans took a blow last week when Treasury number two David Laws resigned in a row over his expenses claims.

Clegg has faced criticism from many in his centre-left party for joining up with the centre-right Conservatives after they failed to win a clear majority in May's general election.

But he tried to offer reassurances that the cuts would not hit the worst off in an interview with the Observer newspaper Sunday.

He said there would be no return to the days of Margaret Thatcher, the 1980s Conservative premier who many on the left still accuse of having neglected people on lower incomes by imposing cuts.

"We're going to do this differently. We're not going to do it in the way we did in the 80s," Clegg said.

He added it was "a huge mistake to think that tackling the fiscal crisis is somehow an unprogressive thing to do.

"Not tackling it would be a greater betrayal of our progressive ideals".

© 2010 AFP

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