Johnson’s GE troubles grow as UK minister quits Cabinet

by BLOOMBERG/ pic by BLOOMBERG

LONDON • Things keep going wrong for Boris Johnson as he seeks to win a Conservative majority in the UK’s Dec 12 general election (GE).

The prime minister’s (PM) bid was rocked by a Cabinet resignation yesterday, just minutes before he launched the campaign. Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns quit after reports he knew about a former aide’s role in the collapse of a rape trial.

The resignation — the second by a Cabinet minister since the election was called — is a blow for the Tories at the start of one of the most unpredictable contests in recent history. While they have a double-digit lead over the main Opposition Labour Party in several recent polls, the negatives are already piling up.

Johnson spoke outside his Downing Street office, formally announcing a GE and expressing his frustration that Parliament had repeatedly blocked Brexit.

Postponing the UK’s exit from the European Union is “disastrous” for trust in politics — but a Labour government would usher in a “horror show” of more “dither” and delay, he said.

“I’ve got to the stage where I’ve been wanting to chew my own tie because we are so nearly there, we got a deal,” Johnson said. The delay is “bad for the country and the economy”.

Johnson cast the election as a choice between his Tories who will invest in schools and hospitals and “champion enterprise” — and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour which believes in “high taxes for everyone” and has, Johnson alleged, “done a deal” with the Scottish Nationalist Party for a second referendum on Scottish independence.

“If I come back here with a working majority in the Parliament, then I will get Parliament working again for you,” the Tory leader said.

The speech came following Cairns’ resignation over allegations he approved the selection of a former aide as a Tory candidate for the Welsh Assembly after he was accused by a judge of sabotaging a rape trial by giving inadmissible evidence. Cairns said in a letter to Johnson that he is “confident I will be cleared of any breach or wrongdoing”.

Conservative Party chairman James Cleverly earlier gave a series of television and radio interviews in which he tried to contain the fallout from comments by Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg, who was forced to apologise for suggesting the 72 people killed in the 2017 Grenfell tower-block fire hadn’t shown “common sense”.

Those remarks were then compounded by fellow Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen, who suggested Rees-Mogg would have survived the fire because he is more “clever” than the victims. Bridgen also apologised, but opponents said the pair’s comments showed the party is out of touch with ordinary people.

In another setback for the Conservatives, the country’s most senior civil servant blocked the Treasury from publishing costings for the Opposition Labour Party’s policies. According to a Treasury official, the announcement had been ready to go on Tuesday, but after complaints from Labour, Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill refused to let it proceed. — Bloomberg