We were promised a bazooka. What we got, instead, was a volley of howitzers, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak was summoned to the front-line in the Government’s assault against the coronavirus yesterday. His orders: to deploy every weapon in the Treasury’s arsenal to keep Britain’s economy above the water line.
Generous cash grants, mortgage holidays, gargantuan business loans . . . you name ’em, Rishi launched ’em. This was no namby‑pamby aid drop. This was shock-and-awe time.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak, left, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson, right, as he gives the daily coronavirus press conference at 10 Downing Street amid the ongoing pandemic
Will it be enough? After the Prime Minister’s decision on Monday to yank the shutters down on the country, we can only hope so.
‘Whatever it takes’ — that was the phrase du jour. Four times the Chancellor uttered it, as he attempted to rub ointment on our business community’s frazzled nerves. Former European Central Bank president Mario Draghi used the same soundbite eight years ago when the euro was buckling, and it worked a treat.
Sunak took his place at yesterday’s briefing inside Downing Street’s state dining room at the berth usually occupied by Chief Medical Officer for England Chris Whitty, who was on stand-easys for the afternoon. At the very least, the new recruit looked fit and fresh and ready for battle. His skinny suit was neatly pressed, his hair impeccably oiled. Doubtless a few late nights in the Treasury will soon see to that.
Boris, by contrast, is beginning to take the look of a haggard Field-Marshall. His skin was blotchy, his eyes like over-ripe puffballs. He spouted the war lingo again, referring to the virus as the ‘deadly enemy’, albeit one which was ‘beatable’.
Sunak looked a little startled at first, like a pimply actor arriving breathlessly to his first audition, but hit his stride soon enough. ‘Never in peacetime have we faced an economic fight like this one,’ he said.
He spoke slowly and carefully so that there could be no misunderstandings. What a cool performer he is. To think he’s been Chancellor for barely a month.
After a cautious preamble, he summoned the courage to stray from the safety zone of his notes and speak to the country directly through the camera. ‘We will do whatever it takes,’ he soothed.
Up the Chancellor’s sleeve were support measures he admitted were ‘unimaginable’ just weeks ago. ‘This is not a time for ideology or orthodoxy. This is a time to be bold.’ Then, a volley of petrifying figures. There would be a series of unprecedented Government-backed loans for businesses. He promised £330 billion of guarantees, some 15 per cent of our gross domestic product. Gadzooks!
Mr Johnson and the Chancellor as they make their way up the staircase to give their press conference. They were also joined by chief scientific officer Sir Patrick Vallance
Sunak took his place at yesterday’s briefing inside Downing Street’s state dining room at the berth usually occupied by Chief Medical Officer for England Chris Whitty
That’s not all. Businesses would get access to loans on ‘attractive terms’. Loved that expression ‘attractive terms’. So Del Boy.
There would be help for airlines, airports and unprecedented aid to those in the beleaguered hospitality business. God knows those poor souls are going to need it. Restaurants around Westminster yesterday were totally deserted.
Furthermore, mortgage payers would be given three months to get back on their feet. Truly, this was end-of-days stuff.
Beside Rishi, Boris’s jaw tightened a tad. Hearing each drastic measure announced one by one, he must have felt like a Premiership footballer having the cost of his floozy’s latest midweek splurge at Harvey Nicks read out to him in person. (‘Really? You needed those Jimmy Choos in three different colours?’).
Staggeringly, the Chancellor insisted these might just be the first steps. ‘If the demand is greater than the initial £330 billion I’m making available today, I will go further and provide as much capacity as required,’ he said.
Over on Boris’s left stood his chief scientific officer Sir Patrick Vallance. He is one of those people who never looks out of sorts — neither pooped, pained, nor particularly perturbed.
Earlier that day, he had been in front of Jeremy Hunt’s Health Committee. Poor chap, on his birthday as well (and, coincidentally, Carrie Symonds’ too — what a celebration that must have been).
With that insouciance only doctors can muster, Vallance declared 20,000 deaths from the virus in the UK would probably count as a decent result. ‘I don’t think any of us have ever seen anything like this,’ he informed the committee.
After this latest raft of extraordinary Government measures, it was an observation of which few of us needed reminding.