British PM Boris Johnson blasted for $1.57 million plane paint job

Mr Johnson speaks during question period at the House of Commons in London, on June 17, 2020.
Mr Johnson speaks during question period at the House of Commons in London, on June 17, 2020.PHOTO: REUTERS/UK PARLIAMENT

LONDON (AFP) - Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced scorn and ridicule Wednesday (June 17) after the government revealed it will spend nearly a million pounds (S$1.57 million) repainting his official plane the colours of the Union Jack.

Leading political opponents accused Johnson of wasting taxpayers' money on a vanity project while millions struggle through the coronavirus pandemic.

Downing Street said the RAF Voyager transport plane that British prime ministers share with members of the royal family was currently getting a makeover near Cambridge, in eastern England.

"We're expecting the cost to be around £900,000," Johnson's spokesman said. "That incorporates the cost of creating a design that will promote the UK around the world without compromising the plane's vital military role."

Johnson is known to have strong views about the looks of government jets.

He complained in 2018 that he had to share the "grey" plane with then prime minister Theresa May while he was still serving as foreign minister.

Johnson's decision to spend public money on a paint job in the middle of the steepest economic downturn on record drew derision from members of the opposition.

"Rather than reversing the damaging policies that have pushed millions into poverty, the Prime Minister is more interested in finding money to spend on his own vanity project, a luxury VIP plane," the Scottish National Party's parliamentary leader Ian Blackford fumed.

"For goodness sake. Please can we have a grown up as a Prime Minister instead of a child," the main opposition Labour party's Emma Hardy tweeted.

And Liberal Democrats' acting leader Ed Davey noted that the dexamethasone steroid that UK scientists showed to be an effective treatment for the most serious novel coronavirus cases only costs a few pounds a patient.

"Boris Johnson could have bought 180,000 doses of that, but instead he's painting a flag on a plane," Davey said.

"At every stage, we work to ensure value for money for the UK, and all of the work has been undertaken in the UK, directly benefitting British suppliers," Johnson's spokesman said.