George Osborne was subsequently branded a coward for leaving a junior minister to explain the government’s u-turn on fuel duty tax.

Smith, the economic secretary to the Treasury struggled to explain how the government’s u-turn on increasing fuel duty this August would be funded and repeatedly failed to give specifics as to which government departments would be subject to underspends to accommodate it. 

Smith said: “It is not possible to give you a full breakdown at this point because the figure is evolving somewhat.”

Paxman countered to her assertion that the government’s number one priority is to cut the deficit: “Is this some of joke? How can you possibly have as a number one priority cutting the deficit when you choose to spend an underspend in funding a tax  cut, or failure to implement a tax rise which was scheduled?”

Former deputy Prime Minister John Prescott tweeted about Smith’s handling of the interview: “When we faced hard times every cabinet minister would go on TV to defend policy. Osborne sent a very junior minister. Coward.”

Smith was also left to explain the government’s decision on Channel Four News earlier in the day.

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