Boris Johnson has defended the Conservatives’ spending plans, despite a leading economic think tank warning that the party was “highly likely” to spend more than its manifesto implied.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) warned that a no-deal Brexit under the Tories – if the PM was unable to secure a free trade deal with the EU by the end of 2020 – could lead to a “big downturn” and a return to the politics of austerity.
But Mr Johnson insisted that his party’s plans were “fully costed”, and that the Tories have the “wherewithal” to make commitments on the NHS, education and infrastructure.
Meanwhile, the PM was again accused of “running scared” on Thursday night when he did not join other party leaders for the Channel 4 News climate change debate.
The broadcaster reacted to the snub by putting an ice sculpture in his place at a podium, even though Michael Gove turned up at the studio offering to represent his party.
The programme’s presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy, tweeted: “It was kind of @michaelgove to turn up at @Channel4News tonight offering to come on the #climatedebate but the other party leaders will only debate other party leaders. We look forward to welcoming Mr Gove another time.”
It was kind of @michaelgove to turn up at @Channel4News tonight offering to come on the #climatedebate but the other party leaders will only debate other party leaders. We look forward to welcoming Mr Gove another time.— Krishnan Guru-Murthy (@krishgm) November 28, 2019
A spokeswoman for Channel 4 News said ahead of the programme that Mr Gove “is not the party leader” when asked if he could replace Mr Johnson.
The Conservative Party has complained to Ofcom’s election committee about the debate, and a party spokesman said it is “deeply disappointed that Channel 4 News has conspired with Jeremy Corbyn to block the Conservatives from making the case for tackling climate change and protecting the environment”.
It comes as a Tory source told BuzzFeed News that if the party wins the election it will reassess Channel 4’s public service broadcasting licence.
Rebecca Newsom, head of politics at Greenpeace UK, said: “Given how poorly Boris Johnson’s manifesto scored in our climate and nature ranking, it’s no surprise he refused to take part.
“This could have been an opportunity for him to set the record straight and commit to stronger policies.
“But running scared doesn’t just spark witty hashtags highlighting his cowardice, it demonstrates to voters a serious lack of leadership over a crisis that affects us all.”
In an interview with the PA news agency, the PM refused to commit to an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Neil despite Mr Corbyn being grilled by the veteran journalist earlier this week.
And Mr Johnson would not say whether he would stay on as prime minister if he loses his Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat, but wins a majority overall in the country.
Mr Johnson said he would submit to “all kinds of inquisitions and interrogations” until polling day on December 12 but, despite being repeatedly asked, refused to say whether he would be interviewed by Mr Neil.
“Here I am being interviewed by you, I don’t think I have barely stopped being interviewed by people since the election began and will continue to submit to all kinds of inquisitions and interrogations until polling day,” he told PA.
Pressed again during a campaign visit to a farm shop in Devon, he said: “I’m in discussion with all sorts of people about all sorts of interviews and look forward to doing many, many more.”
On whether he would stay on as PM if he loses his seat, he said: “I’m hoping very much to win again in Uxbridge and South Ruislip and fighting hard for every vote.”
Mr Johnson later said that if US President Donald Trump tried to put the NHS on the table in a future trade deal with the US, he would “walk away”.
Speaking in an interview with ITV News, the Prime Minister said: “Shall I tell you what we say, Paul (Paul Brand) – we say goodbye, we say see you later.
“Yes, we’d walk away, literally that would be it.”
Pushed on if the NHS is more important than a trade deal with the US, he added: “The NHS is sacred to us, it’s one of the greatest things about British society, it’s loved and admired around the world, why on earth would we do something as stupid as that?”
Mr Johnson added that he has “never tried to deceive the public”.
His comments came after the IFS said both the Tories and Labour failed to set out “properly credible” tax and spending plans in their General Election manifestos.
The think tank said the opposition party’s claim that its plans to raise an additional £83 billion in taxes would not affect 95% of the population was “not true”.