Boris Johnson today faced a grilling from Tory MPs with the Prime Minister told to get a grip on the coronavirus crisis in care homes and to rule out tax rises to pay for the damage done by the current outbreak.
Mr Johnson delivered a short speech to the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservatives MPs this afternoon before then being probed on the Government’s response to the spread of the deadly virus.
There are growing concerns among Tory MPs about the way in which the Government has tackled problems in the care sector amid claims that some frontline staff are still struggling to get tested.
Meanwhile, the state of the UK’s finances is also increasingly on the mind of the PM’s MPs with the Office for Budget Responsibility forecasting UK plc will shrink 35 per cent in this quarter.
Leaked Treasury documents have put the cost of coronavirus to the UK economy at approximately £300 billion this year.
Many Tory MPs want a guarantee from the premier that the Government will not hike taxes to fill the economic blackhole.
Boris Johnson, pictured in Downing Street today, faced a grilling by Tory MPs this afternoon
OBR estimates suggest the UK’s Gross Domestic Product will fall by one third in the current quarter before then bouncing back
Debt will peak at over 110 per per cent of GDP in September, according to the latest OBR figures
Between 150 to 200 Tory MPs were expected to dial into today’s Zoom meeting with the Prime Minister.
But Mr Johnson was expected to face a tough time with one senior MP telling Politico: ‘He’ll be asked about the messy beginning of the week and the failure to get the proposals properly sorted, documented and detailed.
‘The organisation seems to be lacking, and we need to get a grip of that, because it doesn’t look very good and it leads to people feeling you’re not completely in control.’
Another MP said: ‘We need to realise we’ve got a twin crisis.
‘There is a serious health crisis, which we are tackling, but there is also an economic crisis – we are going to have a massive recession and we need to get over that and move on as quickly as possible.’
Growing Tory disquiet over the impact of lockdown on the UK economy was summed up by former Brexit minister Steve Baker when he responded to new statistics setting out the Government’s financial help to the self-employed.
Some 440,000 applications were made to the Treasury’s self-employment support scheme on its first day in operation at a value of £1.3 billion.
Mr Baker tweeted: ‘£1.3bn. In the first day. This cannot long endure.’
Chancellor Rishi Sunak warned this week the nation ‘will face a significant recession this year’ after much of the economy was forced to shut down in a bid to slow the spread of coronavirus.
There are growing fears some taxes could be raised in the future to help right the ship.
But Cabinet ministers are wary of the political ramifications of such a move.
One said increasing taxes would be the wrong approach for the Government as they argued for the debt to be paid back over decades, like money owed from wartime.
The minister told the Times: ‘It is completely the wrong approach; it would entrench the downturn. We should be looking at policies that open up the economy — we will need fiscal stimulus. Taxes need to be lower rather than higher.’
Many experts are now predicting that the recession the UK is facing is likely to be its worst since the Great Frost of 1709.
The NIESR figures are in line with the scenario from the Bank of England that GDP will slump by 25 per cent this quarter before bouncing back. The 14 per cent fall over the year would be the worst recession in 300 years, since the Great Frost swept Europe in 1709
The Government is also under growing pressure over its handling of the coronavirus outbreak in care homes.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said yesterday the situation was ‘absolutely terrible’ amid reports that some staff at care homes are still unable to get tested for the virus.
Health minister Edward Argar conceded the Government still needs to ‘make available’ Covid-19 testing capacity so all care home residents and staff can get tested.
The PM’s appearance at the 1922 Committee comes amid reports that Tory MPs are pushing for a swift physical return to Parliament so they can cheer on Mr Johnson at PMQs after he was left ‘rattled’ by Sir Keir Starmer on Wednesday.
One senior Tory MP told the Financial Times: ‘A lively environment probably does suit Boris more than Keir.’
A Cabinet minister said the Labour leader is ‘very good’ at PMQs, adding: ‘He is forensic and deadly. I think the PM is worried.’
Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg has said he wants a physical return of the House of Commons at the start of June.
But many MPs are opposed to the move on the grounds they believe social distancing will be impossible if all 650 members of the Commons are back in Westminster.
A ‘hybrid’ system is currently in use which allows up to 50 MPs to attend the chamber in person with 150 able to take part remotely.