Boris Johnson has claimed that all-out strikes on public transport will be made illegal under a new Conservative administration following major disruption on UK train routes.
“I do think it’s absurd that critical transport mass-transit systems should be capable of being put out of actions by strikes, and other countries around the world have minimum service requirements for public transport – and that’s what I want to see,” said Johnson in front of an audience of textile workers near Matlock in Derbyshire.
The Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers union (RMT) said its members on South Western Railway (SWR) were “standing firm” on the second of 27 planned strikes over the role of guards on trains. On new trains due to start running next year, SWR wants drivers to operate the doors at every stop to save time.
Johnson made the claim on a day when ITV said the prime minister had ducked an interview with Julie Etchingham, despite the other party leaders agreeing to being interviewed by her.
Having already prompted a furious response from Labour by refusing to take part in a BBC interview with Andrew Neil and a climate debate organised by Channel 4, ITV said Johnson had confirmed he would also refuse to face Etchingham.
“Boris Johnson’s team have today confirmed he will not be taking part,” said the spokesman, who said Johnson had been approached along with all the other leaders at the beginning of the campaign. “The programme will instead feature a profile of the PM using fresh interviews with other contributors and archive footage.”
The move to Derbyshire on Thursday by Johnson’s campaign highlighted the Tories’ hope to break through the so-called “red wall” of traditional Labour seats.
Appearing at the John Smedley factory, Johnson was asked if he would “absolutely promise” to get a trade deal with the EU by the end of the transition period in December 2020. “I’ve absolutely no doubt at all that we’ll be able to make sure that the EU protects its own interests and has a deal with us that ensures that continues for the future.
“If you say ‘can I absolutely guarantee that we’ll get a deal’, I think I can and I’ll tell you why – look at what we achieved … in three months with the new deal that I did,” said the prime minister.
Asked if it was a “cast-iron guarantee”, Johnson said: “The possibility you allude to [of not getting a deal within a year] simply will not happen.”
Questioned about suggestions in the Times and the Telegraph that the government would cut taxes in a February budget – contradicting the party’s manifesto, which shows taxes will go up – Johnson said: “I don’t know what you are talking about ... We’re cutting taxes on business rates, we’re cutting national insurance contributions for everybody in the country, everybody paying NICs.”
The Tory manifesto document shows that the party plans to reduce the government’s tax receipts by £3.195bn in 2020-21 while government revenue through taxation will increase by £3.32bn.
Although personal taxes would go down, the overall tax burden would increase because of changes in corporation tax.
A Conservative party statement later tried to clarify Johnson’s position. “Our manifesto does not propose increasing taxes on UK resident companies and would not put up personal taxes for hard-working Brits,” it said. “We have been very clear that we are pausing future corporation tax cuts, and will invest this money into our NHS.”
Earlier Johnson apologised “for any offence caused” by his article describing Muslim women who wear a face-covering veil as looking like “letterboxes” and “bank robbers”.
The prime minister was confronted over the issue on ITV’s This Morning by Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby, who said Muslims had been hurt and offended by his remarks.
Johnson replied: “People dig out all sorts of articles … I’ve already said sorry for any offence caused and I say it again.”
The prime minister claimed his words had been taken out of context, and added: “What [the Conservatives] have to do is have an inquiry over xenophobia and prejudice of all kinds.”
The original article written in the Telegraph last year argued the burqa should not be banned even though it was “absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letterboxes”.
At the time, he repeatedly refused to apologise despite calls for him to do so from Theresa May, the then prime minister, and Brandon Lewis, the then chairman of the Conservative party.
A panel convened by the Conservative party later ruled that he should not be disciplined because he was “respectful” in the piece and had been using “satire”.
In Matlock, Johnson declined to guarantee that he would subject himself to a grilling by Andrew Neil, who has questioned Jo Swinson, Jeremy Corbyn and Nigel Farage.
“I’m the first prime minister to have done two, or about to do two one-on-one leadership debates, several hours’ worth of phone-ins, endless press conferences and interviews with all sorts of BBC people called Andrew.
“And I will continue to submit to the interrogation of the media,” he said.