Johnson afraid of Labour-SNP ‘nightmare on Downing Street’

Former Tory David Gauke says returning Conservative majority would lead to no-deal

UK prime minister Boris Johnson. Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty

UK prime minister Boris Johnson. Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty

 

Boris Johnson has urged voters to return a majority Conservative government as the only alternative to a “nightmare on Downing Street” in the shape of an alliance between Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn and the Scottish National Party’s Nicola Sturgeon.

Speaking at an electric taxi factory in Coventry in his first major speech of the campaign, Mr Johnson said the SNP leader represented Mr Corbyn’s only path to power.

“Does he want to protect the union, or would he join Nicola Sturgeon in trying to break up the most successful political partnership of the last 300 years? Who knows? And as for his position on the EU, it is positively mind-boggling,” the prime minister said.

“One thing is clear: the Sturgeon-Corbyn alliance would consign this country to months, if not years, of dither, delay, discord, division.”

During a visit to Scotland on Wednesday, Mr Corbyn created confusion about his position on a second Scottish independence referendum, apparently ruling it out during the first term of a Labour government before suggesting later that it could happen as early as 2021.

Mr Johnson promised to double funding for research and development; to establish a British equivalent of the US Advanced Research Projects Agency, which funds high-risk, high-reward research; and to match the current level of EU research funding after Brexit.

Gauke strikes

Earlier on Wednesday former Conservative justice secretary David Gauke warned that a Conservative majority would lead to a de-facto no-deal Brexit at the end of 2020 because of Mr Johnson’s promise not to extend the transition period. Mr Gauke, who lost the Conservative whip last September, is standing as an Independent in South West Hertfordshire, where he has been MP since 2005.

Mr Gauke said it would be impossible to negotiate a trade deal with the EU by December 2020 and that the prime minister would find it impossible to go back on his promise not to seek an extension.

“I don’t think that either the parliamentary party or the wider Conservative membership would allow him to do that. He is boxed in unless parliament is in a position to force him to extend.”

Labour sought on Wednesday to move the focus of the campaign on to the National Health Service, which is traditionally one of the party’s strongest issues. Shadow chancellor John McDonnell said a 4.3 per cent increase in real terms on healthcare funding would be paid for by tax increases that would affect only the top 5 per cent of earners.

Labour will reduce the threshold for the 45p income tax rate, currently the highest tax band, to £80,000 and introduce a 50p rate for earnings above £125,000.

“For all of us, we are promising better and bigger services and lower costs. Free prescription charges. An end to hospital parking charges,” Mr McDonnell said. “It is only the top 5 per cent that will contribute a little more at the end of the tax year – because their shoulders are broad enough to bear this. And because our society as a whole gains from that contribution.”