Jeremy Corbyn has “abandoned Scotland and undermined Scottish Labour”, Conservatives claimed as Boris Johnson unveiled the party’s manifesto with a promise to “get Brexit done” and defend the Union.
Tory Party chairman James Cleverly said an alliance with the SNP was Labour’s only hope of power on the same day as the first Scottish opinion poll of the election campaign suggested the party was facing another near-wipeout north of the Border.
Mr Johnson unveiled a party manifesto in a venue decked out with the message “My Guarantee”, pledging not to raise income tax, National Insurance or VAT, and to deliver Brexit by 31 January.
But independent analysts said it was “remarkable” how “modest” the proposals were, with just £3bn in additional day-to-day spending compared with £83bn promised by Labour.
Funding to increase nurse numbers in England could mean billions extra for Scotland’s NHS, Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw claimed. He urged the Scottish Government to use a £3.1bn Barnett formula windfall on the health service, claiming it was enough to fund 5,000 new nurses and five million more GP appointments.
Introducing the Prime Minister ahead of yesterday’s manifesto launch in the Tory-held West Midlands marginal of Telford, Mr Cleverly told party activists: “Because Jeremy Corbyn has abandoned Scotland and undermined Scottish Labour, his only chance of power is by cutting a deal with Nicola Sturgeon.
“And we know what price would be: another divisive referendum on ripping Scotland from the United Kingdom, destroying the most successful political union in world history.
“Another once-in-a-generation decision retaken. We say no.”
Attacks on Corbyn
The Prime Minister attacked Mr Corbyn after the Labour leader revealed he would take a “neutral” stance in a second EU referendum, neither endorsing a renegotiated Brexit deal secured by his own government, or backing Remain.
“The Lib Dems want to revoke Brexit, the Scots nationalists want to cancel Brexit and have another referendum on Scotland as well,” Mr Johnson said.
“As for Labour, they’ll plainly give in to Nicola Sturgeon and waste the whole of next year in two more referendums one on Scotland, and one on the EU – except that Jeremy Corbyn won’t tell us whether he would even be willing to advise people to vote in favour of his own deal. He used to be indecisive. Now, he’s not so sure.”
Referring to Tory environmental pledges, he joked: “I say let’s go carbon neutral by 2050 and Corbyn neutral by Christmas.”
The manifesto promises £3.1bn of additional funding for Scotland through Barnett consequentials, with £2.1bn of that made up of new capital spending.
It confirms a pledge to end the post-Brexit transition phase, which will see the UK stay under EU trade rules, in December 2020 – a key demand of the fishing industry, which is seeking an escape from Brussels’ Common Fisheries Policy.
Hope for Scotch producers
The manifesto also promises a review of alcohol duty, following complaints from the whisky industry that UK-produced spirits are unfairly penalised compared with imported wine; and an oil and gas sector deal that will support the North Sea offshore industry while easing the transition towards a green economy.
The Prime Minister said the election on 12 December was the “most critical in modern memory” offering a stark choice “between out and out retrograde and destructive socialism and sensible One Nation Conservatism”.
Despite having promised to raise the threshold for higher-rate taxpayers from £50,000 to £80,000 during his campaign to be party leader, there was no mention of it in the manifesto.
Mr Johnson insisted that he had lost none of his “tax-cutting zeal”, but said it was “right to focus our tax cuts on people who need them most”.
Afterwards, Mr Carlaw said the Prime Minister had outlined a “bold vision for the future of the country, with the Union at the heart of it”.
Paul Johnson, the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, said the manifesto was notable for its lack of ambition.
“If a single budget had contained all these tax and spending proposals we would have been calling it modest. As a blueprint for five years in government the lack of significant policy action is remarkable,” he said.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn dismissed it as a “manifesto for billionaires”.
He added: “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.”