Boris Johnson grilled on ‘eroding’ impact of cost of living crisis
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The Prime Minister said his Government has a “relentless drive to deliver on the promise of Brexit”. Laws to slash red tape, boost growth and make the most of new technology are on the way, along with measures to “rejuvenate high streets and restore pride in local areas” by dealing with derelict properties. The PM told the Sunday Express that a “super seven” set of Brexit freedom Bills will allow Britain to “thrive as a modern, dynamic and independent country”.
His pledge comes as the party reels at the loss of iconic councils and the ousting of around 500 councillors. Senior Tory figures have urged their leader to focus on “levelling up” in the run-up to the next general election.
Mr Johnson said: “I’m proud that my government is capitalising on the immense opportunity that our newfound Brexit freedoms bring. This relentless drive to deliver on the promise of Brexit is why we’re bringing seven Brexit Bills in the Queen’s Speech.
“I call them the super seven – and they will benefit families and businesses across the land by changing old EU rules that don’t work for the UK. From data reform to gene-editing to financial services, these Bills will allow us to thrive as a modern, dynamic and independent country, and this government is getting on with the job of delivering them”.
Tuesday’s Queen’s Speech will include legislation to make the trade deals with Australia and New Zealand a reality, scrapping tariffs on 100 percent of goods exports to these countries.
It will also feature the keenly awaited Brexit Freedoms Bill, which will make it easier to get rid of remaining EU laws that are still on the statue book. It is hoped this will cut around £1billion of red tape for British business.
The Queen speech will scrap tariffs on goods exports (Image: Getty)
A new law will clear away “unnecessary barriers inherited from the EU” to allow gene-editing to increase disease resistance in crops and reduce pesticide use.
The coming Procurement Bill will make it easier for small and medium-sized businesses to bid for public sector contracts. The Financial Services and Market Bill will cut red tape in a bid to make the UK a more attractive place to invest, and the Data Reform Bill will seek to improve the “burdensome GDPR” system and allow information to be shared more effectively and securely between public bodies.
Meanwhile, new animal welfare legislation will raises standards “higher than the EU” and crack down on puppy smuggling.
Action is also on the way to return life to Britain’s high streets. Frustration at the state of dilapidated town centres is considered a key reason why so many traditional Labour “red wall” seats switched to the Conservatives in 2019.
Mr Johnson is determined to tackle the problem of shops standing empty for years, blighting high streets and “wasting opportunities for new jobs”.
Councils will be given greater powers to take control of buildings with the goal of “transforming boarded up shops or derelict buildings into thriving businesses, shared community spaces or housing”.
The PM ‘has a drive to deliver Brexit promise’ (Image: Getty)
Mr Johnson said: “High streets up and down the country have long been blighted by derelict shopfronts, because they’ve been neglected, stripping opportunity from local areas. We are putting that right by placing power back in the hands of local leaders and the community so our towns can be rejuvenated, levelling up opportunity and restoring neighbourhood pride.”
Recent research suggest as many as one in seven shopfronts stand empty, rising to one in five in the North East. New “compulsory rental auctions” will compel landlords to put shops that have been vacant for a year up for auction.
Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove said: “By empowering local communities to rent out shops which have been sat empty for a year or longer, we will end the scourge of boarded up shops that have blighted some of our great towns across the country for far too long. These measures will breathe new life into high streets, transforming once-bustling communities into vibrant places to live and work once again and restoring local pride as we level up across the country.”
Councils will also gain new powers to “drive regeneration” through compulsory purchase orders. This will make it easier to acquire land to build social housing.
Pavement licensing red tape will also be permanently scrapped to free up businesses to serve al fresco food all year round. This comes alongside £1.7billion of temporary business rates relief in 2022-23 for up to 400,000 retail, hospitality and leisure properties in a bid to boost the high street.
Michael Gove is urging people to rent out shops (Image: Getty)
Jake Berry, who leads the Northern Research Group (NGG) of Conservative MPs pushed for the Government to focus on raising prosperity in parts of the country that have lagged behind the richest regions.
He said: “In tough midterm elections the Conservatives have proved that we still have more ground to gain from the out of touch Labour Party in the North. As we move beyond Covid it is clear that it will be the North and the Government’s levelling agenda that gives us the potential to build on the gains from the 2019 elections.”
A senior Conservative source added: “The work undertaken by the NRG to keep levelling up on the agenda, has played a crucial role. If we are to succeed next time, levelling up is the priority – no question.”
Will Tanner, who was deputy head of policy during Theresa May’s Government, said the Prime Minister must avoid the temptation to focus on “culture war” topics which obsess Westminster but hold little interest for voters.
He said: “People care about how much money they have in their pockets, whether or not they feel safe walking the streets at night and unsustainable levels of immigration.”
He, too, said Boris Johnson needed to show he was making good on promises to level-up the country.
“You can’t level up areas overnight,” he said. “It’s a 10 or 15 year mission. But they need to show that some progress has been made, and give people hope that there is more to come.”
The Tories have pledged to tackle immigration (Image: PA)
The comments reflect polling commissioned by Onward, the think tank Mr Tanner now heads, which found dealing with the cost of living is far and away the issue of most concern to voters.
When asked what parties should focus on in order to win their vote, 59 percent picked dealing with the cost of living crisis as one of their three top concerns.
In second place was the state of the NHS, named as a top issue by 43 percent of voters, while 32 percent said the economy was a key issue for them.
Mr Johnson is likely to face continuing criticism from Tories over his handling of the so-called “partygate” controversy about pandemic-era gatherings in Downing St.
A senior backbencher said: “The Conservative Party needs to think very carefully now. Under Boris’ leadership the party is heading towards electoral disaster.
“No change will translate into no chance at the next election.”
Tobias Ellwood, the Conservative chairman of the defence committee, warned: “The trajectory of travel of where Labour is going versus us has to be reversed or we will absolutely lose the next general election.”
He also cautioned against brushing aside the loss of key London councils, saying: “We can’t claim to be a national party if we have no local footprint in the capital city and that’s just simply fundamental.”
The loss of Wandsworth and Westminster councils, he said, was a “little bit like losing your aircraft carriers”.
The party is braced for senior civil servant Sue Gray’s report into Covid-era rule-breaking – and for the possibility of more fines being issued.
Mr Ellwood said he suspected most of his colleagues were waiting “to make a full judgement on whether our party is damaged beneath the waterline or we can repair ourselves in time for the next general election”.
The success of the Liberal Democrats in winning new councillors is expected to cause particular unease among Conservative MPs in the party’s traditional strongholds.
Tory peer Lord Hayward, a respected polling expert, said: “Boris is wounded but not out. But his losses to the Lib Dems will cause a long-term difficulty because it will unsettle the Tories in their heartlands.”
He added: “You’ve got to look at the losses suffered in Oxfordshire, in Berkshire, in Surrey, in Hampshire… It is in essence the revolt of the upper middle class.”