LONDON — Boris Johnson launched the Conservative party manifesto on Sunday with headline pledges to deliver Brexit by January 31 and spend £100 billion on the U.K.s infrastructure.
The party has put its promise of a speedy resolution to Brexit at the heart of its campaign ahead of the U.K.s December 12 election. Elsewhere, the 59-page manifesto document prioritizes spending on health, education, policing and infrastructure. According to the accompanying costings document, annual current spending under the Conservatives would rise by £3 billion by 2024, compared with more than £80 billion for Labour.
Johnson has avoided several of the policy controversies that tripped up his predecessor, Theresa May, during the last election; his manifesto makes no mention of a plan to reform care for sick and disabled people and pledges not to change the law on fox-hunting, both of which caused headaches for the party in 2017.
At its launch in Telford in the West Midlands, Johnson said delivering Brexit was about honoring the “democratic processes of this country.”
“We want to focus on the priorities of the British people, above all the NHS and the cost of living,” he said.
Polls published this weekend give the Conservatives a lead of between 12 and 19 points, which would grant Johnson a parliamentary majority.
If he wins Decembers election, Johnson will bring his Brexit deal back to parliament for a vote before Christmas, and seek to get it ratified in U.K. law by the current January 31 deadline. The House of Commons approved the second reading of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill in October, but the prime minister pulled the bill after MPs declined to support his proposed timetable for passing the legislation.
The manifesto rules out any extension of the Brexit transition period past December 2020, meaning that the U.K. would have to negotiate a new trading relationship with the EU by then or else leave without a deal.
A Tory administration would aim to have 80 percent of U.K. trade covered by free trade agreements within the next three years.
The manifesto pledges “fewer lower-skilled migrants” and reduced immigration overall, but does not set specific targets.
Immigration would be managed through an Australian-style points-based system, which will aim to “attract the best and brightest from all over the world” through bespoke visa schemes such as the already announced NHS visa for qualified doctors, nurses and other health professionals with a job offer from the NHS and good working English. Top researchers would also be offered fast-track visas.
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EU nationals arriving in the U.K. after Brexit and non-EU nationals would be treated “equally” when it comes to visas and non-contributory benefits. They would only be able to access unemployment, housing and child benefits after five years. The Tories would guarantee the rights of the EU nationals who were living in the U.K. before Brexit.
New immigrants would contribute to the National Health Service and “pay in before they can receive benefits.”
The manifesto pledges to increase the annual quota for the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme the government is piloting from 2,500 to 10,000.
A Tory government would enforce charges on people using the NHS without contributing in a bid to reduce the incidence of “health tourism.” It would continue to grant asylum to refugees fleeing persecution.
Health and social care
The Tories are pledging a £33.9 billion boost to the NHS by 2023-24.
The party has already committed money to upgrade six hospitals by 2025, and the manifesto says the party would fund the construction of new ones over the next decade.
They would also make available 50 million extra GP appointments, which amounts to a 15 percent increase on current figures. “Within the first three months of our new term, we will enshrine in law our fully funded, long-term NHS plan,” the manifesto says.
The party is pledging to scrap hospital car parking charges for NHS staff on night shifts, as well as disabled and terminally ill patients and their families and those who require regular visits to hospital in England. This would have an estimated cost of £78 million a year. Hospital parking in Scotland and Wales is already free.
The Conservatives are pledging to recruit 50,000 extra nurses — at a cost of £750 million a year — and 6,000 more doctors in GP surgeries, a promise that comes as significant numbers of EU staff leave the NHS because of Brexit uncertainty. The party would reintroduce maintenance grants of between £5,000 and £8,000 per year for student nurses, which were axed under David Cameron.
“The services the NHS provides will not be on the table” when the government negotiates trade deals, the manifesto says.
The manifesto includes £5 billion in short-term funding for so-called social care for disabled, sick and elderly people. It does not set out a social care policy, and instead pledges to work with opposition parties to “come up with long-term proposals.” It issues a guarantee that no one would have to sell their home to pay for care, another policy that caused problems at the last election for May, whose plan was dubbed the “dementia tax” by critics.
The Tories are pledging not to raise rates of income tax, national insurance or VAT over the next five years.
Johnson, who had pledged to raise the higher rate of income tax from £50,000 to £80,000 during his Tory leadership campaign pledge, said he had lost “none” of his “tax-cutting zeal,” but he wanted to focus tax cuts on “people who need them most.”
More than that, the Tories would raise the threshold at which workers must make national insurance contributions from £8,628 to £9,500 in 2020-21, a measure the party says would save 31 million taxpayers £100 next year. The party would also raise the national minimum wage from £8.21 to £10.50.
The Tories have rowed back on a promise to cut corporation tax, saying it will now stay steady at 19 percent. However, they would cut four business taxes: the business rate, R&D tax, construction tax and employers national insurance contributions. The party also pledges to halve business rates for smaller pubs, shops and cinemas.
The manifesto says the Conservatives would also maintain the so-called triple lock on state pensions, which guarantees the rate at which this rises, and the winter fuel payment, an annual tax-free sum to help older people with heating costs. At the last election, May proposed scrapping the “triple lock,” a policy decision that was widely blamed for her losing the Tory majority.
Public spending would be limited to 3 percent of GDP averaged over the five-year parliament, but this target would be reassessed if debt interest reaches 6 percent of revenue in order to “keep debt under control,” Johnsons manifesto says.
A total of £100 billion would be spent on infrastructure up to 2025. Of this, the manifesto already allocates £22 billion to specific projects, with the rest expected to be set out in a National Infrastructure Strategy, to be published alongside the next budget.
Rather than nationalizing the railways as Labour pledged, the Conservatives propose ending the “complicated” franchising model and creating “a simpler, more effective rail system, including giving metro mayors control over services in their areas.”
The Tories want to build a so-called Northern Powerhouse Rail between Leeds and Manchester, and then focus on Liverpool, Tees Valley, Hull, Sheffield and Newcastle.
They would also support the Midlands Rail Hub, a £2 billion package of improvements to east-west rail connections between Birmingham, Leicester, Nottingham, Coventry, Derby, Hereford and Worcester. They would connect small towns by reinstating some local railway lines that were axed in the 1960s.
The party would also attempt to curb all-out rail strikes by legislating for some services to run during industrial action.
City regions would receive funding for bus, tram and train services upgrades “to make them as good as Londons,” the manifesto says, without pledging a figure.
There would be “superbus networks” with lower fares and increased frequency, but the manifesto does not say how many of the thousands of bus routes axed by previous Conservative governments would be restored.
A £350 million Cycling Infrastructure Fund would support the expansion of cycling routes.
The Conservatives are also promising to spend £2 billion for the U.K.s biggest-ever pothole filling program. This is almost 10 times the amount the party promised in March. A further £28.8 billion would be spent on strategic and local roads, and on completing a fast-charging network for electric vehicles.
And they would build up to 10 freeports — zones where normal tax and customs rules do not apply — around the U.K.
Technology and R&D
A Tory government would legislate to prevent online abuse, especially against children. The Gambling Act would be reviewed and adapted for the digital age.
The Tories intend to offer full fiber broadband to every home and business across the U.K. by 2025. The party would implement the digital services tax developed by former Chancellor Philip Hammond.
The Conservatives would spend 2.4 percent of the U.K.s GDP on research by 2027. Some of the funds would go to creating “a new agency for high-risk, high-payoff research, at arms length from government.”
The manifesto specifically pledges to double funding for dementia research and to speed up trials for new treatments for the disease. It expresses a desire to make the U.K. “the leading global hub for life sciences after Brexit,” as well as to focus funding on research into space, clean energy, robotics and artificial intelligence.
The manifesto also mentions an ambition to continue collaborating with the EU on scientific research, including through the Horizon Europe R&D funding program.
The Conservatives would seek to reduce the form-filling burden on scientists applying for grants, according to the document.
The R&D tax credit rate would be increased to 13 percent. Firms would be able to claim tax relief for investments in cloud computing and data.
Agriculture and fishing
The Conservatives would guarantee the current annual budget for farmers and funding for fisheries in every year of the next parliament. In return, farmers would be asked to respect the natural environment, and the party would introduce a legal commitment to fish sustainably.
The U.K. would leave both the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy after Brexit, according to the manifesto, as has long been Tory policy.
The party says it would encourage the public sector to buy British agricultural products after leaving the EU.
As mentioned above, the Tories would increase the annual quota for the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme the government is piloting.
The manifesto mentions that the party would make no changes to the Hunting Act, for example by reversing the ban on fox-hunting.
Climate and sustainability
The Tories are aiming to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
The party would ban the export of plastic waste outside the OECD to reduce the environmental impact on oceans and developing countries. It would introduce a levy designed to increase the proportion of recyclable plastic in packaging.
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