Boris Johnson under pressure from Tory backbenchers as Parliament returns

31 August 2020, 23:05 | Updated: 1 September 2020, 00:11

Boris Johnson is under pressure from backbenchers over major government decisions during the covid-19 crisis
Boris Johnson is under pressure from backbenchers over major government decisions during the covid-19 crisis. Picture: PA

By Kate Buck

Boris Johnson is facing pressure from his backbench MPs to clarify his government's position on a number of issues as Parliament returns from summer recess.

The Prime Minister has come under fire for presiding over a series of U-turns, including on exam results and face coverings in schools, over the last few weeks.

After months of what one Tory MP said had been a "megadisaster from one day to the next", many are now demanding reassurances from ministers as Parliament resumes.

A senior Conservative MP said backbenchers were "tired of the U-turns"."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 said MPs were left with "egg on their face" each time they defended Government policy to constituents, and then had to reverse their stance.

The backbencher urged the Government to say it would be "more careful in decision making" to avoid future U-turns, and also called for clarity on tax policy to "avoid the Tory party having a public row".

Finding a way to pay for the economic impact of coronavirus is already dividing Conservatives.

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Another senior Tory told PA that it was right to "consider a temporary change" to the triple lock on pensions for one year - as is reportedly being considered - to "take account of the fact that it is the younger generation who are bearing the brunt of the effects of Covid".

Another suggested Chancellor Rishi Sunak take a leaf out of his predecessor Nigel Lawson's book, by reducing taxes in a bid to encourage growth.

One other mooted policy is to cut the foreign aid budget - which stands at 0.7% of the UK's gross national income.

But Conservative former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell said: "With the ink hardly dry on our manifesto, I don't think the House of Commons would easily agree to balance the books on the backs of the poorest women and children in the world."

And 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 without a hitch - and that the move does not push up coronavirus cases.

Conservative chairman of the Education Select Committee Robert Halfon told PA that he wanted the Government and exam regulators to provide "absolute clarity" on the 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.

"I'm not talking about nationwide exams - I think that's the last thing we need - but just some basic understanding of what catch up is needed... and to work out what delay is needed if (exams) need to be delayed," he told PA.

Other challenges facing the Government this autumn including trying to strike a Brexit deal 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.