London (AFP) – A senior British minister admitted on Friday “I don’t know where Boris is” as the prime minister checked out on holiday, in a week when the Bank of England warned of a year-long recession.
Downing Street has declined to say where Prime Minister Boris Johnson is holidaying this week for a belated honeymoon with his wife Carrie, but The Times newspaper said the couple were in Slovenia.
Johnson will have much more time after September 6 when he is handed to either Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak as Conservative leader, but decided to take a break sooner.
The opposition Labor Party accused the government’s two highest-ranking ministers of “not being on duty” – Chancellor of the Exchequer Nadhim Zahawi was also on vacation.
“I don’t know where Boris is, but I’m in constant contact with him,” Business Secretary and Truss supporter Kwasi Kwarteng told Times Radio.
He said he exchanged WhatsApp messages “all the time” with both Johnson and Zahawi and insisted criticism that the government was doing nothing about the economic crisis was “wrong”.
Zahawi said he stayed in touch with Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey on Thursday after the central bank hiked interest rates to 1.75 percent from 1.25 percent, the biggest hike in 27 years.
The BoE is trying to stem rising inflation, which it warned could peak at 13.3 percent as it forecast the UK economy would enter a recession in the fourth quarter that will last until late 2023.
“For me, as I am sure for many others, there is no vacation and no work. I’ve never had that in the private sector, not in government,” Zahawi said in a statement.
Secretary of State Truss and Sunak, Zahawi’s predecessor as chancellor, again toasted the issue of how to deal with the crisis in a televised debate late Thursday.
A recession is “not inevitable,” said Truss, who is on track to succeed Johnson, according to polls of Tory members.
It is planning an emergency budget to cut taxes immediately to tackle the cost-of-living crisis and to review the independent central bank’s anti-inflation mandate.
“Telling people that your real income is going to be squeezed and that I’m going to raise your taxes just adds insult to injury in my opinion,” Kwarteng told Sky News.
But Sunak said tax cuts funded by more borrowing would force the BoE to hike interest rates even more, stressing the need to maintain fiscal tightness and tame price pressures first.
Former Cabinet Secretary Liam Fox, who supports Sunak, warned of “magic fixes” through debt-financed tax cuts like those proposed by Truss.
The two candidates were due to host another Hustings event later on Friday in front of Tory members who have until September 2 to vote.
The ballots were due to be sent out on Monday this week, but the party delayed the process after government cyber experts raised concerns about possible hacking of online votes.
© 2022 AFP