Boris Johnson under pressure over taxes and coronavirus as MPs return to Parliament

1 September 2020, 07:23

Boris Johnson is under pressure from his own side as MPs return to the House of Commons
Boris Johnson is under pressure from his own side as MPs return to the House of Commons. Picture: PA Images
Ewan Quayle

By Ewan Quayle

Boris Johnson is facing fresh pressure from his own MPs for clarity on taxes, education and the Government's coronavirus plan as politicians return to Westminster to question him about a "megadisaster" series of U-turns.

The Prime Minister has come under fire for changing key Government policies on a regular basis - most recently on exam results and face coverings in schools.

One Tory MP described the handling of many critical issues as a "megadisaster from one day to the next" and said many backbench Conservative are demanding reassurances from ministers as Parliament resumes on Tuesday afternoon.

A senior Conservative MP said backbenchers were "tired of the U-turns" and that his own 'red wall' MPs - seats based in former industrial towns in the North of England which are usually won by Labour - were growing impatient.

Read more: Schools in England and Wales welcome pupils back to class

He said: "There's that element of calamity - and frankly there are people from the 'red wall' seats who are getting jittery. But not only 'red wall' seats, but other people who haven't got marginal seats like that.

"We'd like to be in a Government that has the impression of being competent - rather than lurching from one issue to another and then after a short time doing a U-turn."

He added that MPs were left with "egg on their face" each time they defended Government policy to constituents and were then made to reverse their stance just days later.

MPs will return to the House of Commons after the summer recess
MPs will return to the House of Commons after the summer recess. Picture: PA Images

Some MPs are concerned that these newly won seats could be returned to Labour at the next election if the Government performs poorly and does not fulfil its promise to "level up" the country.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, treasurer of the 1922 Committee of Tory MPs, said the panel's executives expected to meet Mr Johnson in the "near future" to relay the concerns of backbenchers.

"I think there is a lot of sympathy for the fact it has been unprecedented, but then I think we mustn't make other own goals.

He added: "We may have a big majority but that still doesn't mean to say that we shouldn't be as competent as possible as a Government."

Read more: GCSE and A-Level exams could be delayed next year

He called for more "strategic thinking" from Downing Street over what he claims were "foreseen" issues, such as problems with the system to calculate exam results this year due to the pandemic.

Paying for the economic impact of Covid-19 is already dividing the Conservative Party, with reports suggesting that chancellor Rishi Sunak is considering major tax shifts and changes to the Government's pension policy.

Options reportedly being considered include a temporary change to the triple lock on pensions to ease the impact of Covid-19 on young people, reducing taxes in a bid to encourage growth and a cut to the foreign aid budget.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is reportedly considering changes to taxes and pensions to pay for Covid-19
Chancellor Rishi Sunak is reportedly considering changes to taxes and pensions to pay for Covid-19. Picture: PA Images

Tory chairman of the Commons Defence Select Committee Tobias Ellwood said the proposal was "shortsighted in failing to appreciate how well-targeted aid can strengthen relationships and open up new markets - thus helping the Treasury".

The Government is also under pressure to ensure the reopening of schools in England this week goes well and does not push up Covid-19 cases.

Conservative chairman of the Education Select Committee, Robert Halfon, told LBC that if there is another lockdown it is crucial "that we won't have a situation once again for one reason or another... that kids are learning hardly anything at all.

"If kids are staying at home they've got to keep on learning whatever happens," he added.

Read more: Most students 'three months behind with studies' - survey

He has called for the Government and exam regulators to provide "absolute clarity" on syllabuses so teachers know what to teach - as well as reassurance for parents and teachers that it is safe to return.

He also said schools should run tests to assess pupils' academic attainment, mental health and wellbeing, and send the results to the Department for Education and Ofqual to help determine when exams should take place next year.

The Prime Minister will also face Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer at PMQs this week for the first time since mid-July.

The opposition leader has accused the Government of taking a "chaotic approach" to education as he demanded Gavin Williamson show how he will "make up for the damage already done" to pupils.

Other challenges facing the Government in the coming weeks include a last-ditch attempt to strike a trade deal with the EU before the end of the transition period, the merger of the Foreign Office and Department for International Development, and the expected rise in unemployment when the furlough scheme ends.

Mr Johnson will chair a meeting of his Cabinet on Tuesday morning, and is later expected to announce Simon Case as the new Cabinet Secretary - the UK's most senior civil servant.