UK's Johnson promises tax cuts and plan for growth ahead of confidence vote

British PM Boris Johnson was booed at Platinum Jubilee events at the weekend. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (REUTERS) - Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised lawmakers a new economic plan for growth next week, a Conservative Party source said on Monday  (June 6) after the British leader addressed his party before a vote no confidence in his leadership.

The source said Mr Johnson also promised to cut taxes if he remained in office and warned lawmakers against turning against each other and trapping the party in a ‘Groundhog Day-like’ scenario.

“He didn’t promise a specific tax cut, but the chancellor (Rishi Sunak) and him will lay out the plan for growth next week and you will get the broad outline of the prime minister’s vision across the board and the broad economic picture,” the source told reporters after the meeting.

Mr Johnson faced a confidence vote on Monday after a growing number of lawmakers in his Conservative Party questioned the British leader’s authority over what has been dubbed the “partygate” scandal.

Mr Johnson, who scored a sweeping election victory in 2019, has been under increasing pressure after he and staff held alcohol-fuelled parties in his Downing Street office and residence when Britain was under strict lockdowns due to Covid-19.

He was met with a chorus of jeers and boos – and some muted cheers – at events to celebrate the Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth in recent days.

On Monday, the once seemingly unassailable Johnson was also lambasted by ally Jesse Norman, a former junior minister who said the 57-year-old prime minister staying in power insulted both the electorate and the party.

“You have presided over a culture of casual law-breaking at 10 Downing Street in relation to Covid,” he said, adding the government had “a large majority, but no long-term plan”.

Mr Norman is one of a growing number of Conservative lawmakers to publicly say that Mr Johnson has lost his authority to govern Britain, which is facing rising prices, the risk of recession and strike-inflicted travel chaos in the capital London.

Mr Jeremy Hunt, a former health minister who ran against Mr Johnson for the leadership in 2019, said the party knew it was failing the country.

“Today’s decision is change or lose,” he said. “I will be voting for change.”

Mr Johnson’s anti-corruption chief John Penrose resigned.

“I think it’s over. It feels now like a question of when not if,” he told Sky News.

A majority of the 359 Conservative lawmakers – at least 180 - would have to vote against Johnson for him to be removed, a level some Conservatives say might be difficult to reach, given the lack of an obvious successor.

If passed, there would then be a leadership contest to decide his replacement, which could take several weeks.

Drawing a line?

Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee that represents rank-and-file Conservative lawmakers, said a vote would be held between 6pm and 8pm (1700-1900 GMT) and the result would be announced at 9pm.

In what might concern Mr Johnson’s team, he said he was not aware of “any orchestrated campaign” to oust the prime minister, which suggests a more spontaneous rebellion than ones that have felled leaders in the past.

A spokesman for Mr Johnson’s Downing Street office said the vote would “allow the government to draw a line and move on” and that the Prime Minister welcomed the opportunity to make his case to lawmakers.

Mr Johnson, a former London mayor, rose to power at Westminster as the face of the Brexit campaign in a 2016 referendum, and took a hardline stance once in power.

Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg, Brexit opportunities minister, told Sky News that completing Britain’s departure from the European Union would be “significantly at risk without his drive and energy”.

Mr Johnson has locked horns with Brussels over Northern Ireland, raising the prospect of more barriers for British trade and alarming leaders in Ireland, Europe and the United States about risks to the province’s 1998 peace deal.

Outcome uncertain

Ministers have also been at pains to point out what they describe as the highpoints of Mr Johnson’s administration – saying Britain’s quick rollout of Covid-19 vaccinations and its response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine proved the prime minister could take the “big decisions”.

“I am backing him today and will continue to back him as we focus on growing the economy, tackling the cost of living and clearing the Covid backlogs,” finance minister Rishi Sunak said on Twitter in a choreographed expression of support.

In letters sent out to Conservative lawmakers, Mr Johnson also made the same point, urging them to support him.

Mr Johnson, or his possible successor, face a raft of problems.

British households are confronted by the biggest cost-of-living squeeze since records began in the 1950s, with food and fuel prices surging while wages lag.

For some Conservatives, Mr Johnson is guilty of squandering a large majority, unable or unwilling to set the agenda after becoming hamstrung by scandals.

But others expect him to survive the vote, and although wounded, he could reset his administration.

For those hopeful of replacing him, bookmaker Ladbrokes put Mr Hunt, a former health and foreign minister, as its favourite, followed by foreign minister Liz Truss.

For many in Britain, the revelations of what went on in Downing Street, including fights and alcohol-induced vomiting, when many people were prevented from saying goodbye to loved ones at funerals, were difficult to stomach. One gathering that went on until the early hours took place on eve of the April 2021 funeral for the queen’s husband Prince Philip.

Two in five Conservative members, according to pollster YouGov, say lawmakers should vote to remove Mr Johnson.

Mel Chetwood, a 61-year-old archivist, said the sight of Johnson being booed by a royal-supporting audience was key.

“That felt like a turning point to me.”

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.