World / Politics

Boris Johnson unveils manifesto for Brexit Britain

AFP-JIJI, Bloomberg, Reuters

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was set to unveil his Conservative Party’s manifesto Sunday, pledging to move on from Brexit and austerity in a bid to secure a general election victory.

Having taken over a minority administration in July and unable to speed his EU divorce deal through Parliament, Johnson is seeking a majority in the Dec. 12 snap general election.

He sees Britain’s third general election in 4½ years as the only way to break the logjam on Brexit, which 52 percent of voters voted for in the seismic 2016 referendum.

Having gotten the Brexit date delayed three months from Oct. 31 to Jan. 31, opposition parties backed his call for an early general election.

“I’m looking forward to sharing our manifesto,” Johnson tweeted Saturday. “We have developed a clear plan that respects the referendum, gets it done, and allows us to move on and focus on delivering real benefits for you and your family,” the center-right party leader said.

The manifesto’s headline pitch is a promise not to raise the rates of income tax, national insurance or value-added tax during the next Tory government.

The manifesto also includes plans for record spending on infrastructure, science and training the workforce, as well as more money for child care and a promise not to export plastic waste to non-OECD countries.

There is no mention of how the various measures would affect the government’s finances.

Johnson is on track to secure a decisive majority, according to an analysis of thousands of interviews from opinion polls.

The Conservative Party looks likely to score around 349 seats in the House of Commons, a gain of 57 seats, according to results from the number-crunching firm Datapraxis published by the Sunday Times newspaper.

The main opposition party, Labour, is on course to lose around 30 members of Parliament, leaving it with 213 seats.

Aside from the Conservatives, the other big winner looks set to be the Scottish National Party. Set to regain 14 lawmakers, the model suggest it will cement its status as Britain’s third-largest party in terms of number of seats, the model showed. The predictive model incorporated data from 270,000 interviews conducted by the polling company YouGov.

A YouGov poll published earlier on Saturday showed the Conservatives’ vote share at 42 percent, 12 points ahead of Labour.

The Conservatives have seen their popularity surge since Johnson took over from Theresa May four months ago.

They also seem set to benefit from Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party pulling out their candidates from more than 300 seats being defended by the Conservatives.

Parliament’s lower House of Commons contains 650 MPs.

Farage had been accused of risking splitting the pro-Brexit vote and allowing anti-Brexit candidates to win seats, under Britain’s first-past-the-post constituencies system.

Despite the poll lead, the election outcome remains uncertain and commentators call for caution, mindful that May had a huge poll lead in the 2017 general election which rapidly melted.

The main plank of the Conservative manifesto is the Brexit deal Johnson negotiated with Brussels in October. He claims the treaty is “oven-ready” and good to go — as long as he can get a majority.

He insists the deal will allow Britain to regain control over its laws, money and immigration policy.

Johnson’s chief rival, left-wing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, wants to renegotiate a new, softer Brexit agreement within three months and then put that to a referendum alongside remaining in the EU by the end of June. Corbyn would stay neutral during the process.

Johnson has blasted Corbyn for his strategy in refusing to recommend either his own proposed Brexit deal or staying in the EU.

However, Johnson has his own weak spots, especially after the years of austerity imposed by Conservative governments since 2010.

He promises to end the years of reining in the budget deficit by pumping billions of pounds into public services.

Johnson has pledged to make the streets safer by recruiting 20,000 police officers.

He is also committed to increasing the National Health Service (NHS) budget by £33.9 billion ($43.5 billion) by 2023-24, and has pledged to upgrade 20 hospitals and rebuild 40 over the next decade.

The Conservatives have also said 50 million more appointments in family doctors’ surgeries will be created every year if they win a majority.

Johnson was criticized by members of the public during a televised questions session Friday over the Conservatives’ handling of the NHS — but he insisted progress could only be made once the Brexit impasse is resolved.

Johnson has announced a three-year plan to increase state-school spending in England by £7.1 billion by 2022-23.

On immigration, he wants to end freedom of movement for EU citizens and introduce an Australian-style points-based system.

The scale of Eastern European immigration since 2004 was one of the key factors behind the Brexit vote in 2016.