Boris Johnson stokes early general election speculation and denies sounding like Labour politicians

Cabinet minister tells The Independent they believe an election is ‘likely’ in autumn or spring

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Saturday 27 July 2019 16:07 BST
Prime Minister Boris Johnson rules out election before October 31

Boris Johnson has continued to stoke speculation about an early general election after using one of his first major speeches as prime minister to outline a series of domestic pledges.

Resembling a pitch usually made to voters during an election campaign, the prime minister promised new infrastructure projects, improvements to education, to “turbo charge” regional growth, tackle the social care crisis and increase availability of GP appointments.

Despite Mr Johnson ruling out calling a general election in autumn, there is still the possibility of opposition MPs toppling his government if he fails to achieve his desired Brexit deal and pivots towards a no-deal exit.

One cabinet minister told The Independent they believed an election was “likely” either in autumn or spring, in order to get any radical domestic agenda through the House of Commons.

In an at times characteristically rambling address, the PM also asked the crowd to applaud him after outlining his transport plans, and then went on to boast about helping to “invent” a new type of bus in the capital as London mayor.

Mr Johnson, who was wearing a badge bearing the phrase “Northern Powerhouse”, said his administration will fund a new trans-Pennine rail link between Manchester and Leeds.

He also pledged to spend £3.6bn on deprived towns and costal communities, in order to improve transport and boost broadband connectivity.

Speaking at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester, he continued: “The centre of Manchester, like the centre of London, is a wonder of the world. A few miles away from here the story is very different.

“The story has been for young people growing up there of hopelessness, or the hope that one day they will get out and never come back. The crucial point is it certainly isn’t really the fault of the places, and certainly isn’t the fault of the people growing up there.

“They haven’t failed. It’s we, us, the politicians, our politics has failed them.”

Rejecting claims his pledges of extensive public spending sounded like those of Labour politicians, he claimed Jeremy Corbyn could not have said “anything of the kind” because he was “committed to the absolute destruction of the wealth-creating sector of society”.

Mr Johnson also attacked people treating Brexit “like an impending adverse weather event”, reiterating his desire to eliminate the Irish backstop from the withdrawal agreement negotiated by the European Union and his predecessor, Theresa May.

He also insisted he had “very friendly relations” with EU leaders, adding: “As to whether my friends across the Channel are warming to me, well I have always had very good relations – we will build on them.”

Ahead of his speech, Tobias Ellwood, who was sacked as defence minister, said the Conservatives should call an election after Brexit, giving the party a shot at altering the parliamentary arithmetic.

“What I would say is, absolutely right, you need to have a general election,” Mr Ellwood told the BBC. “That is the reset button to press in order to gain the numbers. Labour are not in a great position at the moment, so it’s good to call a general election.”

Speaking on Friday, however, Mr Johnson ruled out calling a general election. “The British people voted in 2015, in 2016, in 2017,” he said.

“What they want us to do is deliver on their mandate, come out of the EU on October 31. They don’t want another electoral event, they don’t want a referendum, they don’t want a general election. They want us to deliver.”

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