UK’s Johnson plans for victory with Brexit Party boost
One week before Britain’s election, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was confident enough to publish a plan on Thursday for his first 100 days in office, boosted by an endorsement from Brexit Party MEPs.
Jeremy Corbyn’s main opposition Labour party is struggling to close the gap in opinion polls with Johnson’s governing Conservatives, which remains at around 10 points.
Meanwhile, the electoral threat posed by Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party receded further with the decision of four of its European Parliament MPs to endorse the prime minister.
Johnson has promised to get Britain out of the European Union on January 31, after years of turmoil sparked by the 2016 referendum vote for Brexit.
But he says this would only be possible if he wins a majority of MPs in the December 12 election, allowing him to get his EU divorce deal through parliament.
“If there is a Conservative majority next week, we will get Brexit done by the end of January. 2020 will then be the year we finally put behind us the arguments and uncertainty over Brexit,” he said.
He also announced an unspecified tax cut for “hard-working families”, which he said would be unveiled in a post-Brexit budget in February.
Within 100 days of taking office, he also vowed to pass laws to increase school funding and toughen sentencing laws, as well as beginning moves to shake up the immigration system.
Labour is offering a fresh referendum on Brexit, but has sought to focus on a radical agenda to address inequality, from nationalising key industries to borrowing heavily to fund a huge investment drive.
It challenged Johnson’s claim to represent change, given the Conservatives have been in power since 2010 and introduced huge public spending cuts.
“The Tories have had 3,494 days in office, and in those days we’ve seen child poverty soar, rising homelessness, rising foodbank use, and violent crime is up too,” said Labour MP Andrew Gwynne.
Brexit Party fragmentation
The Brexit Party has been nipping at the heels of the Conservatives for months, threatening to take EU referendum “Leave” voters from Johnson with its promise of a clean break with Brussels.
But the party has suffered a series of setbacks and four of its MEPs — elected on a huge show of support for the party in May’s European elections — announced they were backing the Conservatives.
Among them is Annunziata Rees-Mogg, the sister of Jacob Rees-Mogg who is a leading Brexit supporter and member of Johnson’s cabinet.
She said the premier’s EU divorce deal, which Farage has rejected as “Brexit in name only”, would get Britain out of the EU and return its sovereignty.
“That is what most Brexiteers I’ve ever met have been fighting for decades,” she told reporters.
With Labour backing a second referendum, she added that “Boris’s deal is the only Leave option we have”.
Jacob Rees-Mogg has been absent from the election campaign since suggesting the victims of the deadly 2017 Grenfell Tower blaze lacked common sense in heeding official advice to stay in their homes.
The departures are another blow for Farage, who began the campaign threatening to stand against the Conservatives in every seat, only to back down.
He said he was “disappointed” they were leaving.
But he noted the Brexit Party was winning over voters in many traditional Labour areas of England, making it easier for the Conservatives to win there.
Len McCluskey, the head of the Unite trade union who is close to Corbyn, this week admitted Labour was struggling to win over Brexit-backing voters.
Labour has also been grappling with a long-running row over claims of widespread anti-Semitism in the party, something it strongly denies.
It was hit by a new row on Thursday after lawyers said they had statements from former and current Labour staffers alleging “interference” into investigations into complaints against members.