Rishi Sunak hits out at Boris Johnson’s ‘frustrating’ 10pm pubs curfew as he says he has ‘no regrets’ about Eat Out scheme despite PM suggesting it fueled Covid spike as Tory MPs warn ‘patience is wearing thin’ with lockdowns
- Rishi Sunak will launch a £238m back-to-work jobs scheme today called JETS
- The new programme will assist those who lost work as a result of the pandemic
- Chancellor will address the Conservative Party’s virtual conference today
- Mr Sunak said he was ‘frustrated’ at having to impose the 10pm curfew on pubs
Rishi Sunak risked fuelling rumours of a split with Boris Johnson today as he branded the 10pm pubs curfew ‘frustrating’ and insisted he had ‘no regrets’ about the Eat Out to Help Out scheme.
The Chancellor mounted a staunch defence of his subsidies on dining out after the PM admitted they might have contributed to the sharp rise in coronavirus cases.
In an interview ahead of his keynote speech to Tory conference, Mr Sunak said the scheme had propped up two million jobs.
Cementing his status as the leading Cabinet ‘hawk’ on the need to get the economy running again, he told The Sun: ‘I don’t think it’s wrong for people to want to strive for normality and I don’t think it’s wrong for the Government to want that for people.’
The intervention came after Mr Johnson came under fierce questioning over his handling of the crisis, with criticism of chaotic local lockdowns and shambolic testing. He admitted yesterday that he had dropped his ‘buoyant’ style during the pandemic because it was ‘inappropriate’.
By contrast, Mr Sunak has been praised for his tone talking about the impact of the disease, and the speed with which complicated bailouts including furlough were implemented.
Mr Johnson tried to bridge the apparent gap between their messages yesterday by saying that he wanted the public to be ‘fearless but use common sense’.
Rishi Sunak (pictured visiting Octopus energy with Boris Johnson today) mounted a staunch defence of his Eat Out subsidies after the PM admitted yesterday they might have contributed to the sharp rise in coronavirus cases
Mr Johnson told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show yesterday that the Treasury incentive ‘may have helped to spread the virus’
Treasury figures show more than 100million meals were eaten under the scheme, which gave diners a 50 per cent state-backed discount, up to a maximum of £10, on meals every Monday to Wednesday during August
The Chancellor will address the Tory faithful online this morning, with the annual conference forced to go ‘virtual’ due to the virus.
Mr Sunak was dubbed Dishi Rishi after unveiling his August scheme of subsidised meals out to help a pub and restaurant sector badly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Treasury figures show more than 100million meals were eaten under the scheme, which gave diners a 50 per cent state-backed discount, up to a maximum of £10, on meals every Monday to Wednesday during August.
Mr Johnson told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show yesterday that the Treasury incentive ‘may have helped to spread the virus’.
But in his interview Mr Sunak said the success of the initiative had helped prop-up two million jobs and that he had no regrets about paying for it.
‘No, definitely not,’ Mr Sunak said when asked if he held any regrets.
‘We had an industry that I care deeply about because of employment. It’s over two million people.’
Mr Sunak pointed to the low rate of second-wave Covid infections in the South West, a region he claimed made the most use of the scheme, as evidence that the hospitality drive had not had an adverse health effect.
The non-drinker also expressed sympathy over public anger at the 10pm pub curfew brought in as an attempt to curb infections.
‘Everyone is very frustrated and exhausted and tired about all of this,’ he told the paper.
With a series of local lockdowns in place across the country, including in Merseyside, Greater Manchester and the North East of England, a third of the UK population is now living under heightened social restrictions.
But Mr Sunak – who was careful to praise Mr Johnson’s ‘extraordinary’ leadership during the pandemic – sent a warning about any future move that would see the economy shut down again.
It came with Tory anger running high over the government’s approach. Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the influential 1922 Committee of backbenchers, said patience was starting to ‘wear thin’ with local lockdowns.
Sir Graham told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour: ‘When you start to get to speculation about a second lockdown or all of these regional things … I think patience really does start to wear thin and I can understand that.’
Mr Sunak is launching a new jobs scheme to help Britons left out of work as a result of the pandemic.
The £238million Job Entry Targeted Support (JETS) programme will assist hundreds of thousands of people without work for more than three months to get back into employment.
He said: ‘Our unprecedented support has protected millions of livelihoods and businesses since the start of the pandemic, but I’ve always been clear that we can’t save every job.
‘I’ve spoken about the damaging effects of being out of work, but through JETS we will provide fresh opportunities to those that have sadly lost their jobs to ensure that nobody is left without hope.’
A wide range of help will be offered, including specialist advice on how people can move into growing sectors as well as CV and interview assistance.
Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said: ‘JETS will give recently unemployed people the helping hand they need to get back into work, boosting the prospects of more than a quarter of a million people across Britain.
‘We have provided unprecedented support for jobs during the pandemic, including through furlough and subsidising the incomes of the self-employed – doing all we can to protect people’s livelihoods – but sadly not every job can be saved.
‘This scheme will help those left out of work as a result of Covid-19.’
She said it was one strand of the Government’s wider Plan for Jobs ‘which will also support young people on to the jobs ladder through Kickstart’ and offer the training needed to switch to new roles.
The Department for Work and Pensions is recruiting 13,500 work coaches to help deliver the programme as well as opening further job centres.
The new Job Entry Targeted Support (JETS) programme will assist hundreds of thousands of Britons who lost work as a result of the pandemic
Pictured: Rishi Sunak with the Health Secretary Matt Hancock (left) and the Conservative party Chairman Amanda Milling (right) before going into the studio to rehearse his speech