News, Culture & Society

Boris pledges billions to get Britain booming and says we’ll ‘bounce forward’ with huge revival plan

Boris Johnson today pledges to spend tens of billions of pounds to save the British economy from disaster in the wake of the coronavirus epidemic.

In an exclusive interview with The Mail on Sunday, the Prime Minister promises a building blitz of hospitals, schools, housing developments and ‘shovel-ready’ road and rail infrastructure projects, while an ‘opportunity guarantee’ will aim to save the jobs of workers who have lost out in the employment market.

Signalling a clear break with the policy of austerity imposed by David Cameron in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, Mr Johnson says that he will be ‘doubling down’ on his pledge to ‘level up’ the distribution of wealth across the country.

He says: ‘This has been a huge, huge shock to the country but we’re going to bounce back very well. We want to build our way back to health. 

‘If Covid was a lightning flash, we’re about to have the thunderclap of the economic consequences. We’re going to be ready.

Signalling a clear break with the policy of austerity imposed by David Cameron in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, Mr Johnson says that he will be ‘doubling down’ on his pledge to ‘level up’ the distribution of wealth across the country

‘The lesson is to act fast and we’re going to make sure that we have plans to help people whose old jobs are not there any more to get the opportunities they need. We are absolutely not going back to the austerity of ten years ago.’

The Prime Minister will announce details of his plan – which he describes as ‘a very big moment’ – in a set-piece speech on Tuesday, which will be followed-up by an economic statement from Chancellor Rishi Sunak next month.

Mr Johnson’s vow came as:

  • He responded to Westminster rumours of poor health by doing press-ups in Downing Street during the interview, and saying that he feels ‘as fit as a butcher’s dog’.
  • Travel companies reported their biggest ever Saturday sales ahead of next week’s launch of the traffic light system that will allow Britons go on holiday to the safest destinations without having to be quarantined for 14 days.
  • The UK recorded 100 more coronavirus deaths, the lowest Saturday figure since the start of lockdown and nearly a quarter down on the figure from seven days earlier.
  • It is to become compulsory for pupils to return to schools in September, with Tory MPs expressing concern about the ‘feral’ behaviour of children no longer required to go to school.
  • Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick came under fresh pressure over his handling of a Tory donor’s £1billion property development after a whistleblower accused Mr Jenrick of playing ‘fast and loose’ with the case.

The Prime Minister will use his speech on Tuesday to announce a taskforce – dubbed ‘Project Speed’, and led by Mr Sunak – to cut down the time it takes to deliver ‘high quality infrastructure’.

Projects in the pipeline include plans for 40 new hospitals, 10,000 extra prison places and a school rebuilding programme.

‘I’m as fit as a butcher’s dog now,’ Boris declares. ‘The country is going to bounce forward, and I certainly feel full of beans. Never felt better’. Above, Boris does his press-ups in the Den

‘I’m as fit as a butcher’s dog now,’ Boris declares. ‘The country is going to bounce forward, and I certainly feel full of beans. Never felt better’. Above, Boris does his press-ups in the Den

Mr Johnson told this newspaper: ‘We’re going to need a very committed, dynamic plan: not just for infrastructure, not just for investment but making sure that young people have the confidence they need that we are going to help them get into a place of work, to keep their skills up, to keep learning on the job and get a highly paid, highly skilled job that will stand them in good stead for a long time to come.

‘We are going to have plans for work placements, supporting young people in jobs, apprenticeships, getting people into the workplace, making sure that their skills don’t just fall into disuse and we’re going to give an opportunity guarantee for all young people.’

But he also called on the British people to exercise restraint when pubs, restaurants and hotels open on July 4, and warned that if the crowded scenes on beaches during last week’s heatwave were repeated he would not hesitate to order the micro-lockdown of individual towns.

Describing the coronavirus crisis as ‘one of the biggest challenges this country has had to face in 75 years’, Mr Johnson said: ‘The Government has done some things right, but the biggest thing of all was the public doing it right.

‘I say to those people who are going out in large groups – you may think that you are immortal, that you won’t be a sufferer, but the bug you carry can kill your family and friends.

Is he able to help Carrie with nappy changes and night feeds? Choosing his words carefully, he says: ‘I am both present and involved in a detailed way. All are doing very well, all are healthy and happy’.

Is he able to help Carrie with nappy changes and night feeds? Choosing his words carefully, he says: ‘I am both present and involved in a detailed way. All are doing very well, all are healthy and happy’.

‘We want to get to a world where we are as close to normal as possible as fast as possible. I don’t want a second lockdown.

‘Wherever there is a local outbreak, whether in Ashfield or Angelsea, we will empower the local authorities to quarantine everyone who has got it, test back to the moment of infection and make the necessary closures.’

During his interview, when asked if he was helping to look after Wilfred, his two-month-old son with fiance Carrie Symonds, by changing nappies and giving him night feeds, Mr Johnson said that he was ‘both present and involved in a detailed way’ adding that ‘all are doing very well, all are healthy and happy’.

And referring to his improving health, Mr Johnson said that the security officers who accompanied him on his morning run had ‘detected in the last few days a notable turn of speed and… are starting to break into a mild trot themselves’.

He declared: ‘I’m as fit as a butcher’s dog now.

‘The country is going to bounce forward, and I certainly feel full of beans. Never felt better.’

I’m ‘full of beans’ after virus scare, I’m ‘present and involved’ with the nappies and I’m ‘more Woking than woke’: Boris Johnson speaks to The Mail on Sunday at Number 10 

Interview by Glen Owen

‘Do you want me to do some press-ups to show you how fit I am?’ With those words, the Prime Minister hurls himself to the floor of his Downing Street office with an exuberance which has appeared to be absent in recent months.

It is hard to picture Churchill or Gladstone doing anything similar – and completely impossible to imagine it of Theresa May – but Boris Johnson is keen to put paid to Westminster rumours about the state of his health since he was struck down by Covid-19 earlier this year.

‘Fit as a butcher’s dog… never felt better,’ is how the 56-year-old puts it, after months of debilitating political drama, a brush with death and the arrival of a new child.

Now Boris hopes to re-energise his frazzled-looking Government by injecting billions of pounds into the British economy to ‘build our way back to health’.

He will use a major speech on Tuesday to set out his plan for a post-Covid economic recovery, and in the process start to define the nebulous political credo of ‘Johnsonism’.

‘If you want to see what gets me out of bed in the morning, I look at the basic injustice – there are all sorts of people who don’t get the opportunities and the chances that they need in this country and there is huge, huge talent, untapped, undreamt of, across the whole of the UK.' (Pictured above, the Prime Minister and Carrie Symonds participate in a round of Clap for Carers)

‘If you want to see what gets me out of bed in the morning, I look at the basic injustice – there are all sorts of people who don’t get the opportunities and the chances that they need in this country and there is huge, huge talent, untapped, undreamt of, across the whole of the UK.’ (Pictured above, the Prime Minister and Carrie Symonds participate in a round of Clap for Carers)

The austerity of the David Cameron-George Osborne era is being shunned in favour of a splurge on new hospitals, schools and housing developments, along with the acceleration of ‘shovel-ready’ infrastructure projects such as HS2.

Downing Street strategists fear that unless they take swift action, the economic devastation wrought by the coronavirus will hit the Conservatives in the former ‘Red Wall’ seats in the North which switched from Labour to the Tories at the last Election.

The spectre of the return of the mass unemployment of the 1980s lies behind the Government’s new promise of an ‘opportunity guarantee’ to boost the employability of those workers who have been hit hardest by the crisis. 

It is all part of what Boris calls ‘levelling up’, to bridge the gap with the wealthy – many of whom have survived, or even flourished, during lockdown.

‘This has been a huge, huge shock to the country but we’re going to bounce back very well. 

‘We want to build our way back to health,’ says Boris, who hopes the speech will start to draw a line under relentless criticism of his Government’s handling of the epidemic.

Time for an office refurb? 

It is meant to be Boris Johnson’s equivalent of the Oval Office – the small ‘den’ by the Cabinet Room which has served as the Prime Minister’s office since Tony Blair’s time in No10. 

But in stark contrast to Donald Trump’s palatial surroundings the den is cramped, with threadbare carpets, trailing wires and books stuffed carelessly on to shelves next to family pictures – including, since Boris moved in, one of him with Carrie and baby Wilfred.

A table in the middle of the room serves as a meeting area, with a small sofa stuffed in the corner used as ‘spillover’. 

The only clue to the status of the occupant is the securely-encrypted ‘red phone’ used to talk to fellow world leaders which sits by the window overlooking the No 10 garden.

Mr Blair used the room to meet aides in the relaxed, laid-back style later described pejoratively as ‘sofa government’. 

Gordon Brown preferred an office at No12, but when David Cameron became PM in 2010 he resumed operations from the den. 

Theresa May, characteristically, ditched a sofa and replaced it with the table to lend the room a more ‘serious’ air.

‘We are going to be doubling down on levelling up. If Covid was a lightning flash, we’re about to have the thunderclap of the economic consequences.

‘We’re going to be ready. The lesson is to act fast and we’re going to make sure that we have plans to help people whose old jobs are not there any more to get the opportunities they need.

‘We are absolutely not going back to the austerity of ten years ago.’

The speech will be followed up next month by an economic statement from Chancellor Rishi Sunak, in an attempt to demonstrate that the occupants of No 10 and No 11 are in step on the strategy.

Whispers about the Prime Minister’s health have been circulating since he returned to Downing Street following his dramatic fight for life in intensive care.

There have been claims that he was sleeping during the day and struggling to juggle the demands of fighting the epidemic with the needs of his two-month-old son, Wilfred. 

All nonsense, says Boris. He has returned to his pre-Covid routine of running at 6.30 every morning with Dilyn, the dog he shares with fiance Carrie Symonds, although he admits that until a few days ago his jog was barely walking pace.

‘I would turn around and see my detectives just walking. But I want you to know that I am picking up speed now. They have detected in the last few days a notable turn of speed and they are starting to break into a mild trot themselves.’

Is he able to help Carrie with nappy changes and night feeds?

Choosing his words carefully, he says: ‘I am both present and involved in a detailed way. All are doing very well, all are healthy and happy’.

What about paternity leave? 

‘Who’s?’ he says, looking baffled. 

‘Yours.’ 

‘Ahh, err… it hasn’t seemed to crop up so far.’

Boris’s life-or-death struggle in intensive care, shortly before Wilfred’s birth, deepened his ‘already profound admiration for the NHS’, he says – but also gave him ‘a sense of urgency’.

‘I’m as fit as a butcher’s dog now,’ he declares. ‘The country is going to bounce forward, and I certainly feel full of beans. Never felt better’.

There is a growing body of evidence that many Covid victims – particularly those, like the PM, who ended up in intensive care – suffer long-term effects, including lung scarring and cognitive problems. But Boris counts himself as one of the fortunate ones.

‘We are still learning new things about the disease,’ he says. ‘Many, many people have made a very full and healthy recovery and I seem to be one of them.’

The Prime Minister became engaged to Ms Symonds at the end of last year, but he is conspicuously reluctant to discuss wedding and honeymoon plans.

‘You and your readers will be among the very first to know if there is any change in that situation,’ he promises.

What’s on PM’s reading list? 

The Prime Minister's book Seventy-Two Virgins, is about the efforts of a hapless, bicycle-riding, tousled-haired MP to foil a terror attack

The Prime Minister’s book Seventy-Two Virgins, is about the efforts of a hapless, bicycle-riding, tousled-haired MP to foil a terror attack

Foreign policy appears to be at the forefront of Boris Johnson’s mind as more tough Brexit talks loom – if his reading list is anything to go by. 

Books piled on a trolley in his office include Modern Diplomacy, by international relations expert Professor Ronald Barston, and Charles Moore’s acclaimed biography of Margaret Thatcher.

And maybe he’s seeking some Brexit inspiration in motivational tomes that include Be The Lion, which offers advice on ‘how to overcome big challenges and make it happen’.

The Good State by ardent Remainer AC Grayling and Why Europe Should Become a Republic by German thinker Ulrike Guérot are perhaps more surprising additions.

Unfair Game by Lord Ashcroft, exposing South Africa’s captive-bred lion industry, and an autobiography by Kurdish fighter Diana Nammi also await the PM’s attention.

Mr Johnson is a successful author himself. 

His four books include The Churchill Factor, about the war-time leader, and 2004’s Seventy-Two Virgins, about the efforts of a hapless, bicycle-riding, tousled-haired MP to foil a terror attack…

Throughout his twin careers in journalism and politics, Boris has flirted with the limits of free speech and deliberately courted controversy – such as when he told The Mail on Sunday that Mrs May had placed a ‘suicide vest’ around the British constitution with her Brexit deal. 

So the recent outbreak of ‘woke’ political correctness, including the removal of statues of historically controversial figures, and police officers ‘taking the knee’ in solidarity with the Black Lives Matters movement, must place him in a quandary.

As he does so often when he is in such a position, he swerves a question about ‘taking the knee’ with a joke: ‘I am more Woking than Woke!’ he says, before adding quickly: ‘I prefer to talk about what we are doing positively.

‘The Black Lives Matter campaign is extremely important because I do think a lot of people feel that they don’t have a chance to express their talents. 

‘A lot of people feel that there are barriers in their lives, and that goes for black and ethnic minority people across this country.’

The sketchy outlines of ‘Johnsonism’ are starting to appear, with Boris describing it as ‘the basic symmetry between creating a fantastic public sector platform of infrastructure, schools and technology, through which private enterprise and private genius can flourish. It’s about the balance.’ 

Warming to his theme, he goes on: ‘What’s happening is we’ve put our arms around literally millions of people.

‘Things moved fast [during the peak of the Covid crisis], protecting the NHS, getting the ventilators in the beginning, rolling out the support, so I’m a believer in government working now to help get the country through this in very, very good shape. 

‘We are going to have plans for work placements, supporting young people in jobs, apprenticeships, getting people into the workplace, making sure that their skills don’t just fall into disuse and we’re going to give an opportunity guarantee for all young people.’

Boris describes his speech in the Midlands on Tuesday as ‘a very big moment’, saying: ‘We’re going to need a very committed, dynamic plan: not just for infrastructure, not just for investment but making sure that young people have the confidence they need that we are going to help them get into a place of work, to keep their skills up, to keep learning on the job and get a highly paid, highly skilled job that will stand them in good stead for a long time to come.

‘If you want to see what gets me out of bed in the morning, I look at the basic injustice – there are all sorts of people who don’t get the opportunities and the chances that they need in this country and there is huge, huge talent, untapped, undreamt of, across the whole of the UK. 

‘They don’t have somebody who takes them on one side and says you’ve got talent and you’re the future.

‘There is a massive difference in opportunity around the country.’

Boris Johnson is keen to put paid to Westminster rumours about the state of his health since he was struck down by Covid-19 earlier this year (pictured above with Glen Owen)

Boris Johnson is keen to put paid to Westminster rumours about the state of his health since he was struck down by Covid-19 earlier this year (pictured above with Glen Owen)

It is the sort of political riff which could have been spoken by new Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, whose election has helped to close the gap in the opinion polls to just a few points.

But Boris refuses to acknowledge the greater threat posed by Starmer, compared to Jeremy Corbyn, or whether Starmer was right to sack Rebecca Long-Bailey from the Labour front-bench for forwarding a tweet about Israel.

‘I think the best thing in politics is to concentrate on what you are doing – your own agenda and vision for the country,’ he says.

When pubs and restaurants re-open on July 4, Boris will celebrate with a pint – but he won’t say where. ‘I won’t be blighting any hostelry with my impending presence’. 

He dreads the prospect of having to lockdown the economy again if there is a second wave of the virus, and makes clear that, if scenes such as the crowds packed on to Bournemouth beach are repeated, he will shut down the towns affected.

‘The Government has done some things right, but the biggest thing of all was the public doing it right.

‘I say to those people who are going out in large groups – you may think that you are immortal, that you won’t be a sufferer, but the bug you carry can kill your family and friends. 

‘I don’t want a second lockdown but wherever there is a local outbreak, whether in Ashfield or Angelsea, we will empower the local authorities to quarantine everyone who has got it, test back to the moment of infection and make the necessary closures.’

The Prime Minister, a keen student of history, expects posterity to record the crisis as ‘one of the biggest challenges this country has had to face in 75 years… I think the judgment on the British people will be that they showed outstanding patience, good humour and resolve.’

The judgment on Boris’s performance will have to wait for the official inquiry, expected after the crisis has finally passed.

Until the impromptu gym session, Boris had, by his standards, seemed subdued – energy slightly dimmed, the distinctive turns of phrase perhaps less baroque than before – perhaps not surprising given the enormity of recent events.

He needs a summer holiday and he will be taking it in the UK.

‘This is the most beautiful place in the world. We have a fantastic tourist industry, fantastic places to stay around the whole of the UK,’ he says.

‘If I think back to my happiest holidays they have often been the ones in this country, in Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Devon.

‘Why go anywhere else?’

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


Comments are closed.