Britain has “lost too much” to return to life as it was pre-pandemic, Boris Johnson said as he unveiled a decade-long plan to “build back”.
The prime minister said his government is continuing to work “night and day to repel this virus”, but also that ministers are drawing up plans to fix the “chronic underlying problems” in the UK economy.
In his speech to Conservative Party conference, Mr Johnson promised a green industrial revolution that will create “hundreds of thousands of jobs” and major investment in housing, education and transport to raise the “overall productivity” of the nation after the crisis.
He said: “It isn’t enough just to go back to normal, we’ve lost too much, we’ve mourned too many, we’ve been through too much frustration and hardship just to settle for the status quo and to think that life can go on as it was before the plague and it will not.
— Conservatives (@Conservatives) October 6, 2020
“History teaches us that events of this magnitude – wars, famines, plagues, events that affect the vast bulk of humanity as this virus has – they don’t just come and go.
“They are, more often than not, the trigger for an acceleration of social and economic change, because we human beings will simply not content ourselves with a repair job.
“We see these moments as the time to learn and to improve on the world that went before and that’s why this government will build back better.”
Johnson’s ‘green revolution’
Mr Johnson vowed to “reform our system of government, to renew our infrastructure, to spread opportunity more widely and fairly, and create the conditions for a dynamic recovery that is led not by the state but by free enterprise”.
The prime minister continued: “After 12 years of relative anaemia, we need to lift the trend rate of growth. We need to lift people’s incomes, not just go back to where we were.
“And it’s clear from Covid that we need the economic rebuttalists to deal with whatever the next cosmic spanner may be hurtling towards us in the dark, and the only way to ensure true resilience and long-term prosperity is to raise the overall productivity of the country.”
As Saudi Arabia is to oil, the UK is to wind – a place of almost limitless resource…”
Key to the productivity plan is Mr Johnson’s “green revolution”. The prime minister explained under his proposals every home in the country will be powered by offshore wind within 10 years.
The move will see £160 million made available to upgrade ports and infrastructure across the UK.
Mr Johnson said: “We will not only build fixed arrays in the sea, we will build windmills that float on the sea – enough to deliver one gigawatt of energy by 2030, 15 times floating windmills, 15 times as much as the rest of the world put together.
“As Saudi Arabia is to oil, the UK is to wind – a place of almost limitless resource, but in the case of wind without the carbon emissions, without the damage to the environment.”
The prime minister also used his keynote speech to challenge Labour’s union credentials, accusing Keir Starmer of doing “nothing” to defend the UK against surging support for independence.
He added: “I say frankly to those separatist Scottish nationalists who would like this country to be distracted and divided by yet more constitutional wrangling, now is the time to pull together and build back better in every part of the United Kingdom.”
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said Mr Johnson’s speech offered “absolutely nothing” to those facing hardship.
He said: “Instead of announcing an immediate U-turn on Tory plans to scrap jobs support at the end of the month, and delivering a meaningful fiscal stimulus of at least £80 billion to boost the economy, the prime minister has made a deliberate decision to let unemployment soar.”
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner added: “The British people needed to hear the prime minister set out how he and his government will get a grip of the crisis. Instead we got the usual bluster and no plan for the months ahead.
“We end this Conservative conference as we started it: with a shambolic testing system, millions of jobs at risk and an incompetent government that has lost control of this virus and is holding Britain back.”