The chancellor has never faced a trickier budget day: does he upset some by loosening the purse strings, or imperil a government with no majority by wielding the axe? Whatever he decides, some topics will have to be addressed

Philip Hammond will face his toughest test as chancellor on Wednesday when he stands up to deliver his third and most important budget statement. By comparison, the 2016 autumn statement and this year’s spring budget were exercises in treading water. Conservative MPs expect him to set the agenda for the rest of the government’s term and deliver a vision of how Britain will prosper outside the European Union.

The task is daunting. Without an overall majority, and with factions inside the party calling for his head, Hammond is in a bind. Loosening the purse strings will upset Tories who want to eliminate the deficit some time in the next 10 years; keeping austerity in place risks further cuts to politically sensitive public services such as the NHS, schools and the police.

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