Labour’s free broadband plan a ‘crazed communist scheme’ – Johnson
PM condemns ‘crackpot’ idea to nationalise BT, at estimated cost of £100bn to taxpayer
Britain’s prime minister Boris Johnson on the election trail in Manchester on Friday. Photograph: Frank Augstein/Reuters
British prime minister Boris Johnson has condemned as a “crazed communist scheme” Labour’s plan to provide free full-fibre broadband to everyone in Britain within 10 years by nationalising part of BT.
Jeremy Corbyn said the scheme, which would be paid for by a new tax on technology giants such as Facebook, Google and Amazon, was within Britain’s tradition of building public institutions and services.
“In the 19th century it was the public waterworks. In the 20th century it was our fantastic National Health Service, freeing people from the fear of illness. British Broadband will be our treasured public institution for the 21st century, delivering fast and free broadband to every home. Only the government has the planning ability, economies of scale and ambition to take this on,” the Labour leader said.
“The internet has become such a central part of our lives. It opens up opportunities for work, creativity, entertainment and friendship. What was once a luxury is now an essential utility. That’s why full-fibre broadband must be a public service, bringing communities together with equal access in an inclusive and connected society.”
Labour said it would cost £20 billion to connect every home in Britain, but BT’s chief executive, Philip Jansen, claimed it could cost almost five times that sum. Mr Johnson said the Conservatives had a better plan to introduce universal broadband which would be accomplished within five years but would not be free.
“What we are going to deliver is gigabyte broadband for all and what we won’t be doing is some crackpot scheme that would involve many, many tens of billions of taxpayers’ money nationalising a British business,” he said.
The best way to get brilliant broadband is to get Brexit done, stop sending billions to the EU
Brexit secretary Steve Barclay sought to shift the debate back to Brexit by claiming that Labour’s broadband plan would fall foul of EU state aid rules.
“Jeremy Corbyn is not being straight with the British public – he knows perfectly well that his scheme to keep Britain in the EU means he will be unable to deliver on these grand promises. If he is elected his whole government will be dominated by the chaos of forcing another two referendums on the country.
“The best way to get brilliant broadband is to get Brexit done, stop sending billions to the EU and instead spend it on our priorities. That’s what Boris Johnson and the Conservatives offer and I hope people will vote for that next month,” he said.
During a BBC radio phone-in on Friday, host Rachel Burden told Mr Johnson that many listeners wanted her to ask the prime minister how many children he had. She said that people found it odd that someone who is a public figure was unable to answer that question and asked if he had any children who went to a state school.
“I don’t comment about my children,” he said. “Your assertion that none of my children have been to state schools is wrong. I want all our schools to be superb and I want every kid to have – every young person to have – the same opportunities. I believe absolutely passionately in that.”
Mr Johnson said he did not have “the faintest idea” whether voters found it easy to relate to him.
“That’s a matter for other people – I can’t possibly say, ‘I am relatable,’” he said. “It seems to me the most difficult psychological question that anyone’s ever asked me.”