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.
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.
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.
‘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.’