LONDON (AP) — The formal launch of the Conservative Party’s election pledges Sunday centered around the key plank of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s campaign: making Brexit happen.
Speaking to a friendly crowd, Johnson trashed his opponents — most notably the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, his prime rival — and claimed that his Conservatives are the sole party in next month’s election that will actually get Brexit done.
A platform launch is often used to introduce a number of new promises and programs, but Johnson chose instead to hone his message, reiterating his party’s Brexit stance.
“Unlike any other party standing in this election, we are going to get Brexit done,” he told supporters while waving his party’s printed platform.
Johnson said the rival parties — the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and others — would only bring more delay and eventually betray the will of voters as expressed in the 2016 vote in favoring of leaving the European Union.
Johnson spent more time ridiculing opposition Corbyn than offering details about the plans laid out in the party platform, poking fun repeatedly at Corbyn’s plan to remain neutral if a second referendum is held next year, as Labour wants.
“Let’s go carbon-neutral by 2050 and Corbyn-neutral by Christmas,” he said to appreciative chuckles from the crowd.
Johnson promised to bring his Brexit deal back to Parliament before Christmas, with passage likely assured if the Conservatives win a majority in the Dec. 12 vote. He said that would enable his government to get Britain out of the EU by the Jan. 31 deadline while other parties would slow the process down for months or stop it altogether.
Johnson is trying to keep the focus on Brexit policy, while Corbyn’s Labour hopes people will look at a broader range of issues, including funding of the National Health Service and restoration of cuts in public services.
In his response, Corbyn said Johnson can’t be trusted.
“After a decade of the Conservatives cutting our NHS, police and schools, all Boris Johnson is offering is more of the same: more cuts, more failure, and years more of Brexit uncertainty,” Corbyn said, adding that only Labour can deliver “real change.”
Labour has outlined ambitious and costly new proposals while the Conservative platform, only about half as long as Labour’s, takes a more limited view of what’s needed. Johnson repeated several times that making Brexit happen would “unleash” Britain’s potential.
The Conservatives, leading in most opinion polls and mindful of a series of problems that followed the party’s platform launch in 2017, took a cautious approach Sunday, declining to outline a rash of new programs that might spawn controversy.
The manifesto does call for increased spending to recruit 20,000 more police and 50,000 nurses, and also a 2 billion pound ($2.57 billion) nationwide pothole repairing effort. It also makes crowd-pleasing gestures like eliminating car parking charges at hospitals for staff working night shifts, disabled people, those with terminal illnesses and their families.
The prime minister for the most part stayed on familiar ground, blaming the outgoing Parliament for the failure to make Brexit happen by the last deadline at the end of October.
The 2016 referendum, which saw 52% of British voters choose to break with Europe after decades of integration, was followed by difficult negotiations with the EU that eventually led to a divorce deal — but one that was rejected in Parliament and then renegotiated by Johnson.
The prime minister says that will change if his party wins a majority, because each Conservative candidates has agreed to back the deal.
His repeated promise to “get Brexit done” will be much more difficult if he doesn’t win an outright majority as other parties plan to slow Brexit down — or halt it completely.
Johnson revealed the party’s campaign plans at an event in the West Midlands, where the Conservatives hope to make inroads with traditional Labour Party voters unhappy with the opposition party’s Brexit stance.
Johnson called the election more than two years early in a bid for a parliamentary majority that would back his Brexit plan before the Jan. 31 deadline.
All 650 seats in the House of Commons are up for grabs. (AP)