Johnson goes on attack against Corbyn as Tory campaign begins
Labour deputy leader Tom Watson springs surprise by announcing he is stepping down
Boris Johnson has launched the Conservative general election campaign with a robust defence of his Brexit deal and a sharp attack on Jeremy Corbyn. Addressing hundreds of party members at a rally in Birmingham, the prime minister said a Labour government would prolong the debate over Brexit and damage Britain’s economy.
“With this deal the whole UK comes out of the EU, England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, entire and whole and perfect,” he said.
“This deal delivers everything I campaigned for on Brexit.”
Promising more funding for hospitals, schools and policing, Mr Johnson said the Conservatives would build a strong economy and “unleash Britain’s potential” after leaving the EU. He claimed Mr Corbyn would introduce “Bolivarian socialism”, trigger a run on the pound and establish exchange controls.
“The Labour Party always runs out of other people’s money. It’s going to happen very soon under this lot,” he said.
While Mr Johnson was speaking, Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson unexpectedly announced he was stepping down from the position and leaving politics. A critic of Mr Corbyn and a leading figure among Labour centrists, Mr Watson said he would campaign for the party ahead of next month’s election.
“But now is the right time for me to stand down from the House of Commons and start a different kind of life. The decision is personal, not political,” he said.
The prime minister’s upbeat rally in Birmingham came after a succession of mishaps for the Conservatives. Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg was forced to apologise for suggesting that victims of the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire could have survived if they exercised more common sense and ignored the fire service’s instruction to remain in their flats.
Half an hour before Mr Johnson announced the official start of the campaign outside 10 Downing Street on Wednesday afternoon, Alun Cairns resigned as Welsh secretary over claims that a former aide sabotaged a rape trial. The prime minister is under pressure to stop Mr Cairns from standing as a Conservative candidate in the Vale of Glamorgan after new evidence suggested the MP knew more about his former aide’s actions than he previously admitted.
Independent unionist Sylvia Hermon said on Wednesday she will not contest next month’s general election in the North Down seat she has held since 2001. Lady Hermon, the widow of RUC chief constable Jack Hermon, was elected as an Ulster Unionist but left the party in 2010 after it made an electoral pact with the Conservatives.
The only anti-Brexit voice from Northern Ireland in the House of Commons since 2017, Lady Hermon said her decision to step down was a difficult one which she took with great sadness.
“Now, however, my priorities for the next few years are to spend my time at home in Northern Ireland to see more of my family and to step back from the frontline of public life,” she said.
Lady Hermon’s announcement came days after Sinn Féin and the SDLP said they would not field candidates against her in North Down, where the DUP, the UUP and Alliance all have a chance of winning the seat next month.