Boris Johnson made a raft of promises and comments indicating future policy during the election campaign. Our specialists take a look at what we can now expect from the government on key policy areas.
Boris Johnson said the NHS would be his government’s top priority. He has made an array of pledges – on funding, staffing and new facilities – aimed at reviving a visibly ailing service that hospital bosses say is “on its knees”. Johnson’s voluble support for an institution “that represents the very best of our country” will see him closely scrutinised over the delivery of his promises, several of which may prove very challenging.
Johnson has promised to increase the budget of the NHS in England by £20.5bn in real terms (after inflation) by 2023-24. That is less than the equivalent £26bn extra that Labour offered. While that will be the biggest uplift in cash terms the NHS has ever received, the annual 3.4% rises are smaller than the NHS’s historical average and less than health thinktanks believe it needs, given demand for care is going up very rapidly.
The Conservatives have committed to building 40 new hospitals in England by 2030. Only six of these – which will receive £2.7bn and should be ready by 2025 – have been identified so far. 21 other NHS trusts will share £100m seed money to help them draw up plans for the 34 other projects which will see the total reach 40. Experts say the 40 will cost up to £24bn, although the government’s estimate is £13bn. It is unclear whether the money will come from the NHS’s capital budget or be over and above the sums Johnson and health secretary Matt Hancock have pledged.
Lack of staff remains the NHS’s number one problem. Johnson was scorned for pledging to recruit 50,000 extra nurses and then admitting that 18,500 of them would come from stopping existing staff quitting early. Restoring maintenance grants of up to £8,000-a-year for student nurses should improve recruitment, but nursing leaders doubt the 50,000 pledge will be met. There is similar scepticism about the aim of recruiting 6,000 more GPs, given numbers have actually fallen since a 2015 pledge to grow the family doctor workforce by 5,000. Without more GPs the promise of 50m extra appointments a year will prove illusory, even with more physiotherapists, pharmacists and other health professionals working in surgeries to take some of the pressure off family doctors.
Waiting times for A&E care, planned operations and cancer treatment have worsened so sharply in recent years that the Health Foundation thinktank is warning that “the safety net [of the NHS] … is at risk of breaking down”. Delays are the worst since records began. The millions of people affected by longer and longer waits is likely to become Johnson’s biggest NHS problem. He has no obvious plan to resolve this beyond more money, more staff and backing for the NHS long-term plan, which aims to keep people healthier. Denis Campbell
Michael Gove has said a new Brexit deal “will be concluded” by the end of next year.
While high-level political negotiations will start in February between the UK and the EU, the detail of getting Britain ready for Brexit is where the devil lies.
Much work has been done on the new systems that must be in place for the worst possible outcome of talks in relation to the Dover-Calais crossing and other UK-EU trade issues.
No work has been done on the Great Britain to Northern Ireland routes which must now be treated as a UK-EU border under the Johnson deal.
HMRC has previously said it would take five years to get what was known as a maximum facilitation customs IT arrangement in place.
And if tariffs on goods exported from the UK into the EU apply after 2020, a brand new tariff rebate system has to be bolted on to cover goods that go from Great Britain to Northern Ireland only. This would apply for instance for all goods going from Tesco warehouses in the UK to supermarket shelves in Belfast, Derry or Armagh.
Border inspection posts will also have to be built from scratch for sanitary and phytosanitary checks on all animals and fresh food going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
The EU has already said it would prefer them to be in ports such as Stranraer and Liverpool to prevent potential disease in animals, plants or timber pallets making its way onto the island of Ireland.
The Northern Ireland office has had several meetings with business leaders on what checks will be necessary but these cannot be determined in detail until after Brexit on 31 January.
Under the withdrawal agreement specialist committees to determine this detail cannot be appointed until the withdrawal agreement is ratified. This means they could be up and running by February leaving 11 months for preparation. But as HMRC has warned previously IT systems take years, not months to build. Lisa O’Carroll
The new government’s policies on education in England are less oven-ready and more baked in, with the bulk of policies on schools, colleges and universities having been announced before the election campaign began.
In terms of major reforms the signature policies are set in place, as they have been since David Cameron: converting schools into academies, and using tuition fees and student loans to fund demand for higher education. While Theresa May wanted to revise the fees and loans system, Boris Johnson has shown little appetite to do so other than trimming the interest rates charged to students.
The Conservatives slim manifesto sees more money for schools, reversing the real-terms cuts since 2009. Johnson’s intention is to raise per-pupil spending to at least £4,000 in primaries and £5,000 in secondaries, although many schools in deprived and urban areas are already higher. Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, had announced plans to raise pay for newly-qualified teachers to £30,000, to shore-up recruitment. Existing teachers, however, are unhappy at the Conservative election pledge to beef-up Ofsted inspections.
Promises on early years education were vague, with a “£1bn childcare fund” in England, and no new funding commitments for children and young people’s mental health. On post-16 education, the Conservatives had already promised £400m over the next parliament, nowhere near enough to arrest the fall in per-student funding, especially in sixth forms.
With Michael Gove at the heart of government, a Johnson regime is unlikely to tinker much with school structures, although there may be legislative moves to convert all maintained schools into academies. Otherwise there are some creaking policies that need urgent repair: further eduction colleges, apprenticeships, and early years provision are all likely to demand attention from Williamson or whoever succeeds him. And while vice-chancellors will be relieved that tuition fees remain, they will be anxious to know more about post-Brexit research funding. Richard Adams
Law and order
The Conservative party hardline approach on crime and justice under Johnson’s premiership became clear when he took office: 20,000 new police officers on the streets was one of his first pledges. The recruitment is more of a restoration as the Conservative-led governments of the last nine years have cut the same number.
But it set a tone for Johnson’s outlook. This was cemented with plans to expand the use of controversial stop and search powers, done by reducing the level of authorisation needed for officers to deploy a form of the tactic from senior officers to inspectors and superintendents and lowering the degree of certainty required by the authorising officer that serious violence may occur. The government is also funding an increase in Tasers.
Plans to increase sentences for some sexual and violent offenders was frequently promoted by Johnson and his team during the election campaign, particularly around the London Bridge terrorist attack, a move that drew criticism from the family of one of the victims.
At the party’s conference in September, the justice secretary announced that offenders guilty of violent and sexual crimes that carry a maximum sentence of life and who are sentenced to at least four years in prison will be required to serve two-thirds of the sentence in prison before being released on licence, as opposed to the midway point.
During the campaign they pledged to give all child murderers a “whole life order”, condemning them to die in jail without release. In reality this would apply to very few cases and was dismissed by critics as populist electioneering.
The government’s own serious violent crime strategy acknowledges that violent crime has a clear link to “poor life outcomes”. There’s very little mention in the Conservative manifesto for tackling these more complex issues behind crime. Jamie Grierson
During the campaign the Conservatives thumbed their noses at the BBC by refusing to let the prime minister do an interview with Andrew Neil, raised questions over the future of the licence fee, and threatened the entire future of Channel 4.
What’s less clear is which bits were bellicose briefing from Conservative press aides keen to change an on-the-day narrative and which were real policies for the future of the media. Boris Johnson’s rumination that it is time to look at whether the licence fee charged on households owning a particular device is sustainable in the current environment – made in response to a question at a campaign event rather than as a pre-planned intervention – was telling.
Abolition would be hard and require legislation, since the BBC’s current Royal Charter guarantees the licence fee’s existence until 2027. A bigger risk factor for the BBC is negotiations over the cost of the licence fee for the 2022-2027 period, which will be set during negotiations with the government. This gives the corporation two years to make the case that the licence fee should keep rising, with the alternative being accepting cuts in the year of the organisation’s 100th anniversary. Even more worrying for the public broadcaster are comments by justice secretary Robert Buckland that the party is seriously looking at “decriminalisation of failing to pay the TV licence”, which could completely undermine the BBC’s revenue collection process.
Channel 4’s future will also be up for debate towards the end of the parliamentary session in 2024. Conservative aides already exasperated with the channel’s output have been watching clips of the channel’s overnight election coverage featuring an audience booing the exit poll.
A new culture secretary will have to decide on how to regulate the internet to reduce online harms, including whether to found a new regulator to take on the task, although the Conservative manifesto was characteristically vague on detail.
With Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour also blaming right-wing newspapers for Labour’s defeat, the British media industry is facing a tough period with reduced public support at a time when many traditional outlets are already struggling – and with their power weakened by a prime minister who has been elected with a massive majority despite refusing to take part in set-piece interviews. Jim Waterson
Opaque pledges in the Conservative Party manifesto to overhaul “the relationship between the government, parliament and the courts” have raised fears that the independence of the judiciary and the Human Rights Act could come under attack.
One inevitable casualty will be the little-loved Fixed-term Parliaments Act. Only a page in the manifesto is dedicated to constitutional issues. While lack of detail may veil radical intentions, it could also disguise a lack of worked-through policies.
The rapid turnover of justice secretaries and the distraction of Brexit have prevented passage of legislation with even cross-party support such as the divorce, dissolution and separation bill introducing no-fault divorce and the domestic abuse bill which bans cross-examination of victims by abusive ex-partners.
Repeated promises to protect members of the armed forces against “vexatious legal claims” have run into disputes between the Northern Ireland Office and Ministry of Defence over the extent of immunity offered in historical cases.
That constitutional revolution is not a day-one priority is acknowledged by statements that “after Brexit” and “in our first year we will set up a constitution, democracy & rights commission that will examine these issues in depth”.
Similarly a commitment to “update the Human Rights Act” to ensure “a proper balance between the rights of individuals, our vital national security and effective government” is vague. It is less explicit than Theresa May’s promise to leave the European court of human rights, announced in 2016.
There has, however, been a ferment in Conservative-inclined thinktanks suggesting, in the wake of successive government defeats in the supreme court, there could be political appointments of senior judges. Others such as Martin Howe QC have proposed replacing the supreme court with a “lower-key and less activist” set of judges.
Could a manifesto reference to “access to justice for ordinary people” hint at One Nation Conservatism? Lawyers are desperate for a crumbling justice system stripped of legal aid to be better funded: the Ministry of Justice has suffered a 40% budget cut since 2010, the worst in Whitehall.
One Tory manifesto pledge, repeatedly made but never delivered, might, ironically, have defeated the 2016 Brexit referendum. Abolishing the 15-year limit on Britons abroad voting in parliamentary elections would enfranchise nearly a million pro-EU voters. Whether it will be enacted belatedly by Johnson may indicate how far he feels bound by manifesto commitments. Owen Bowcott
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