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Boris Johnson sets out plan to take on Corbyn and ‘reboot’ politics

The Prime Minister’s Tory conference speech was condemned by Labour as an address to a ‘right-wing cult’.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivering his speech at the Conservative Party Conference at the Manchester Convention Centre (PA)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivering his speech at the Conservative Party Conference at the Manchester Convention Centre (PA)

By David Hughes, PA Political Editor

The UK is about to take a “giant step” towards a new future, Boris Johnson said as he set out his vision for a post-Brexit Britain.

In his first Conservative conference speech as leader, Mr Johnson sought to present himself as a “sensible, moderate” Prime Minister in contrast with Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour, which he labelled a party of “fraticidal, anti-Semitic Marxists”.

His speech was heavy on rhetoric but light on policy, with the Prime Minister aware that his decision to publish his proposals for a Brexit deal on Wednesday would overshadow the content of his address to the Tory faithful in Manchester.

Instead, his 40-minute speech focused on the kind of “open, outward-looking, global” country that the UK would become after leaving the European Union, mixed with strongly-worded attacks on his political opponents ahead of a widely-expected early election.

“Let’s get Brexit done and let’s finally believe in ourselves and what we can do,” he said.

Comparing the prospect of leaving the EU to technological and social revolutions including the steam age, the rise of parliamentary democracy and female emancipation, Mr Johnson said: “We have always had the courage to be original, to do things differently, and now we are about to take another giant step to do something no one thought we could do: to reboot our politics, to relaunch ourselves into the world.”

He said that people felt they were being “taken for fools” by Westminster’s failure to honour the result of the 2016 referendum and warned of “grave consequences” if Brexit was not delivered.

But leaving the EU would “answer the cry” of the 17.4 million who voted to leave, help areas that had been “left behind” and people who felt their views had “become unfashionable and unmentionable”.

In a speech intended to woo voters ahead of the election he has so far been blocked by MPs from calling, Mr Johnson:

– Insisted the Tories were “the party of the NHS” because it was also “the party of capitalism”.

– Said the Liberal Democrats’ idea of serving the national interest was to urge the EU “not to give this country a better deal”.

– Claimed the pro-Brexit Tories would “turbocharge the Scottish fishing sector” while the SNP would hand back control to Brussels.

Mr Johnson, who skipped Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons to address the partisan crowd in Manchester, said the Parliament that refused to agree to an election was “on the blink”.

“If it were a reality TV show, the whole lot of us would have been voted out of the jungle”, he said.

“The sad truth is that voters have more say over I’m A Celebrity than they do over this House of Commons.”

Mr Johnson sought to highlight clear dividing lines between himself and Mr Corbyn, his main rival for Number 10.

“We put up wages – with the biggest expansion of the living wage for a generation; Corbyn would put up taxes for everyone,” he claimed.

“We back our superb armed forces around the world; Corbyn has said he wants them disbanded.

“We want an Australian-style points based system for immigration; Corbyn says he doesn’t even believe in immigration controls.

“If Jeremy Corbyn were allowed into Downing Street, he would whack up your taxes, he would foul up the economy, he would rip up the alliance between Britain and the USA, and he would break up the UK.

“We cannot allow it to happen.”

The Prime Minister defended the Tory record in office, claiming “it was this Conservative government that tackled the debt and the deficit” left by Labour – even though the national debt has increased to almost £1.8 trillion in August 2019 from just over £1 trillion in May 2010.

He said there was a “vital symmetry” between a “dynamic enterprise culture” and financing “great public services”.

“When did you last hear a Tory leader talk about capitalism,” he asked the audience.

“We are the party of the NHS precisely because we are the party of capitalism, not because we shun it, or despise it.”

The Prime Minister also promised to be “tough on crime”, with political support for the police to use stop and search powers.

“It may be controversial but believe me that when a young man is going equipped with a bladed weapon there is nothing kinder or more loving or more life-saving you can do than ask him to turn out his pockets,” he said.

The Prime Minister, who was speaking just hours before his blueprint to replace the Brexit backstop was presented to Brussels, said his plans were “constructive and reasonable” and involved compromise from the UK – something he hoped the European Union would reciprocate.

In response to the Prime Minister’s attack on Labour, shadow chancellor John McDonnell accused the Tories of being a “small right-wing cult”, and said: “The Conservatives have failed on Brexit, failed on the economy, failed on housing and failed on schools.”

He added: “This crisis the Tories have plunged our country into can only be settled by letting the people decide.

“We need a general election, followed by a public vote, as soon as the threat of no deal is off the table.”

Confederation of British Industry director-general Dame Carolyn Fairbairn said Mr Johnson’s “optimistic vision for our country” relied on a good Brexit deal.

“The no deal turning ends in a very different place: a swamp that will slow the UK’s every step for years to come,” she warned.

PA

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