Boris Johnson today rejected Labour demands for an immediate extension to furlough, business rate relief and eviction ban schemes due to expire in the coming weeks.
At prime minister’s questions in the House of Commons, Keir Starmer told Mr Johnson that businesses “can’t wait” for the 3 March Budget for confirmation of whether they will continue to receive coronavirus help.
And he said that residential renters face an even more urgent cliff-edge, urging the PM to immediately extend an evictions ban which is due to run out in just 11 days' time on 21 February.
“Businesses don't work as slowly as the prime minister,” said Sir Keir. “They need an answer now.”
Mr Johnson hinted that announcements on furlough may come in the “roadmap for the way out of this pandemic” which he has promised for 22 February.
But he said that MPs and businesses should “wait until the Budget” for chancellor Rishi Sunak to explain exactly what support would be made available.
The 100 per cent business rate relief scheme for retail, hospitality and leisure companies is currently due to expire on 31 March.
And Mr Sunak’s job retention scheme, which pays up to 80 per cent of wages of staff furloughed because they are unable to work, is guaranteed only until the end of April.
With full vaccination of the population against Covid-19 not expected until the autumn, and business activity likely to be curtailed for months to come, Labour calculates that these and other changes will deliver a £50bn “bombshell” to business.
Sir Keir told PMQs: “Hundreds of thousands of businesses are affected by this.
“Let me take the prime minister into a secret - He can take decisions for himself, and he doesn't need to leave everything to the eleventh (hour).
“If I were prime minister, I'd say to businesses ‘We’ll support you now. We'll protect jobs now’.
“Because the CBI, the Federation of Small Businesses, the Institute of Directors and the British Chambers of Commerce have all said the same thing.
“They all say they can't wait until the Budget.
“The prime minister may disagree with me, but he's actually disagreeing with businesses. Why does the prime minister think he knows better than British business?”
Mr Johnson responded: “I think that most business people that I've talked to - and I’ve talked to a great many in the last 12 months - will agree that there is no government around the world that has done more to support business, wrapping our arms around business.”
Pressed on the imminent end of the eviction ban, he insisted: “What we will do in this government and throughout this pandemic is put our arms around the British people, support them throughout the pandemic, and make sure that people are not unfairly evicted during the pandemic.
“That is what we will we will do.”
Mr Johnson urged Starmer to “repudiate” the policies of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, which he said included destroying capitalism and breaking up the pharmaceutical industry. And he said that the Labour leader should “support all the government’s policies”.
But Sir Keir retorted with a reference to Mr Johnson’s reported “f*** business” comment during the Brexit referendum campaign.
“We all know what the prime minister once said he wanted to do to business,” said the Labour leader. “We on these benches would rather listen to business.”
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