Boris Johnson set out his vision for post-coronavirus Britain today as he vowed a green revolution and investment in skills.
The PM admitted 2020 ‘has not been the year we imagined’ but insisted the devastating effects of the pandemic would not prevent the government pushing its ‘levelling up’ agenda after Brexit.
In an address to the ‘virtual’ Tory conference, Mr Johnson – deprived of his usual interaction with a live audience – said he was ‘working for the day when life is back to normal’, appealing for people not to let the gruelling lockdown ‘get us down’.
But he said returning to the same way of doing things would not be enough, and the government was determined to ‘build back better’. It was ‘in crises like this’ that real change could be made, and he would seize the moment to do so.
Nodding to the rising Conservative anger about infringement of civil liberties and strangling the economy, he said he ‘deeply regretted’ the restrictions the government was imposing – but he warned there was ‘simply no reasonable alternative’.
The premier delivered a angry response to claims that he has ‘lost his mojo’ and not fully recovered from his own brush with coronavirus, offering to ‘arm wrestle or leg wrestle’ to prove them wrong.
He went on the attack against Labour, slamming the idea that the taxpayer could be ‘Uncle Sugar’ and keep funding every part of the economy. Mr Johnson also took aim at those calling for the country to paper over its colonial past, saying he was ‘not embarrassed’ to sing Rule Britannia.
The keynote speech came as:
- Scotland could be plunged into a new ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown within days despite Nicola Sturgeon being warned it will be a disaster for the economy
- The government’s Covid modelling guru today warned pubs could have to shut altogether to keep schools open – as Boris Johnson faces a Tory revolt against the 10pm curfew;
- Rishi Sunak hinted that tax rises could be delayed to save jobs today as it emerged firms have already made plans to lay off 500,000 people during the crisis;
- Tory MPs are already voicing unhappiness about the drive to boost power generated through wind.
In an address to the ‘virtual’ Tory conference, Boris Johnson – deprived of his usual interaction with a live audience – he said he was ‘working for the day when life is back to normal’
Infections in the UK have rocketed in the past few days due to an embarassing counting error
Acknowledging the weariness of the public with the battle against coronavirus, Mr Johnson said: ‘The fact is we are not in Birmingham… there is no-one to clap and heckle…’
‘I don’t know about you, but I have had more than enough of this disease that attacks not only human beings but so many of the greatest things about our country – our pubs, our clubs, our football, our theatre and all the gossipy gregariousness and love of human contact that drives the creativity of our economy.’
Mr Johnson said the UK would succeed in fighting off the virus ‘just as this country has seen off every alien invader for the last thousand years’.
But the PM said it was not enough to go back to the way things were. ‘I can tell you this government is working night and day to repel this virus and we will succeed, just as this country has seen off every alien invader for the last 100 years,’ he said.
‘After all we have been through it is not enough just to go back to before. We have lost too much, we have mourned too many,’ he said.
‘We have been through too much frustration and hardship just to settle for the status quo ante to think that life can go on as before the plague and we will not.
‘That is why this Government will build back better.’
Pledging to move at ‘gale force speed’ to put the environment at the heart of his approach, he said he wants to make Britain the world leader in offshore wind technology and create up to 60,000 jobs.
He said of his ten-year plan: ‘You heard me right. Your kettle, your washing machine, your cooker, your heating, your plug-in electric vehicle – the whole lot of them will get their juice cleanly and without guilt from the breezes that blow around these islands.’
Mr Johnson tried to deflect attention from the latest testing fiasco and Covid clampdowns by insisting the Government can tackle other issues as well.
He claimed good progress is being made on recruiting more nurses and police and say the pandemic can also be a catalyst for change, with Britain ‘building back better and greener’.
He added: ‘We need to give people the chance to train for the new jobs that are being created every day – in new technologies and new ways of doing things.
‘And there is one area where we are progressing quite literally with gale force speed and that is the green economy – the green industrial revolution that in the next ten years will create hundreds of thousands if not millions of jobs.’
However, the PM is struggling to get a grip on the coronavirus situation after a surge in cases and with growing disquiet from his own MPs.
The government’s Covid modelling guru today warned pubs could have to shut altogether to keep schools open.
Neil Ferguson – known as ‘Professor Lockdown’ – said the extra cases added to the UK’s tally after an Excel blunder painted a ‘sobering’ picture of the outbreak.
He said it was not clear that the government could contain the virus while keeping children in secondary schools – and suggested that the wider population will have to ‘give up more’ to maintain the education provision.
That could include shutting bars and restaurants altogether, as well as extending the October half-term for a two-week ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown to break transmission chains.
However, the problems the PM would face in pushing through such restrictions was laid bare with Conservatives threatening a bid to strike out the existing measures, including the Rule of Six and the 10pm closing time for pubs.
Anger has been growing on the Tory benches over the government’s refusal to exempt younger children from the Rule of Six – as happens in Scotland – while many believe that the curfew is causing more harm than good by fueling revelry on the streets and house parties.
The plan will require a four-fold increase in offshore capacity, with the number of turbines rising from around 1,800 to more than 7,000.
The UK is already testing the world’s biggest turbine blade, with a 350ft model undergoing trials off the coast of Northumberland.
The Prime Minister will today pledge funding to develop floating turbines in deep water locations where the wind is often strongest.
Government sources said ministers would apply ‘stringent requirements on supporting UK manufacturers’ to try to ensure at least 60 per cent of equipment is made in this country.
Mr Johnson will acknowledge that for many years the Tory Party had mixed feelings about wind power, with David Cameron placing limits on the number of turbines that could be built on land.
Mr Johnson’s speech was not blighted by the mis-positioned autocue that had affected other senior ministers – including Rishi Sunak yesterday
He will use his speech to the Conservative Party’s ‘virtual’ conference to set out a radical green energy plan to build thousands of coastal turbines. Pictured: Teeside Offshore Windfarm at Redcar in North-East England
Pledging to move at ‘gale force speed’, the Prime Minister wants to make Britain the world leader in offshore wind technology and create up to 60,000 jobs
But he will say the equation has changed with the advent of powerful offshore facilities that have generated substantial power and fewer public protests.
The Government already had a target to increase the amount of electricity produced by offshore wind from the current level of 10 gigawatts to 30GW by 2030.
That goal now rises to 40GW by the same date.
By comparison, the nuclear power station being built at Hinkley Point in Somerset, is expected to generate about 3.3GW.
Rapid advances in technology have seen prices plummet, with electricity produced by the wind now costing less than half the projected price of power from Hinkley Point.
Government sources said the share of the UK’s electricity generated by offshore wind would rise from about 10 per cent today to around 40 per cent – more than enough to power every home.