Boris Johnson’s optimistic take on Britain’s ability to see through the cost-of-living crisis shows “how little he understands” the “shockwave” felt by households across the country, Labour has claimed.
The outgoing Prime Minister acknowledged in an article for Mail+ that the next few months will be difficult – “perhaps very tough” – as “eye-watering” bills take their toll, with the energy price cap rising again by October.
However, he predicted a “remarkable” bounceback and a “golden” future for the country as he forecast that the UK will emerge “stronger and more prosperous (on) the other side”.
Pat McFadden, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, suggested Mr Johnson was out of touch with people’s experiences and repeated Labour’s proposal to freeze energy bills for six months.
He told Sky News: “I think this morning’s article from the Prime Minister just shows how little he understands the shockwave that was sent through households around the country by Ofgem’s announcement on Friday.
“We are looking at energy bills of hundreds of pounds per month for households around the country and the conversation that’s taking place, of course, is ‘how can we afford this, what else can we cut’? And for some people, it will simply be impossible.”
Former Cabinet minister Simon Hart, who quit the Government as Mr Johnson’s premiership collapsed around him last month, said it was “perfectly reasonable” for the outgoing PM to suggest the UK economy will bounce back.
Asked if he thought the comments from Mr Johnson looking ahead to the end of the crisis were problematic, he told Sky News: “No, I think … it’s very typical of Boris Johnson to be contextualising the situation we’re in.
“I think it is perfectly reasonable for Boris Johnson and others to say, ‘look, this is not going to be a permanent resting place for the UK economy’.
“Because we started this in a reasonably strong position, thanks to some of the decisions which have been taken by Rishi Sunak, to be honest, over things like furlough, then actually we are going to be able to emerge from this in a period of months in a reasonably strong position. That’s an entirely reasonable scenario.”
In his article, Mr Johnson said the “vicious and irrational” invasion of Ukraine by Russian president Vladimir Putin “spooked the energy markets” and ended up costing consumers at home.
He said “we must and we will help people through the crisis”, adding that whoever succeeds him in the top job, the Government will announce “another huge package of financial support”.
Regulator Ofgem warned the Government on Friday it must act urgently to “match the scale of the crisis we have before us” as Britain faced the news the average household’s yearly bill will rise from £1,971 to £3,549.
Making reference to a bleak economic briefing he said he received as Covid swept the world in 2020, Mr Johnson argued the UK has already “proved the pessimists wrong”.
“They told me UK unemployment would top 14%,” he reflected.
“They said that millions would be thrown on to the economic scrapheap – with all the consequent costs to the Exchequer.
“They were wrong. After becoming the first country in the world to approve an effective vaccine, we staged the fastest vaccine rollout in Europe, the fastest exit from Covid.
“As a result, we had the fastest growth in the G7 last year and instead of mass unemployment we have about 640,000 more people in payrolled employment than before the pandemic began.”
Mr Johnson said the UK has the “fundamental economic strength” to endure the cost-of-living crisis, even if the Russian leader “wants us to buckle”.
“In this brutal arm-wrestle, the Ukrainian people can and will win. And so will Britain,” he said.
He added: “We have laid the foundations for long-term gains in prosperity and productivity.
This war is only going to end one way.
Ukraine will win and Britain will be by your side. pic.twitter.com/p57x6lf1yd
— UK Prime Minister (@10DowningStreet) August 25, 2022
“We know we will bounce back from the crisis in the cost of energy as we rapidly build up our own UK supplies.
“That is why we will succeed and why we cannot flinch now.”
Mr Johnson stressed it is time for the West to “double down” on its support for Ukraine, and not “go wobbly”.
He took aim at the “union barons” calling for “endless fools’ gold” as living costs soar, arguing they should be ignored.
“We have more than enough resilience to get through tough months ahead. We have shown that before,” the Prime Minister said.
“We have made the long-term decisions – including on domestic energy supply – to ensure that our bounceback can and should be remarkable, and that our future will be golden.”