Prime minister Boris Johnson has sought to stall a mounting business backlash against his ruling Conservative party by praising bankers’ involvement in helping the country battle the spread of coronavirus.
Speaking at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, Johnson said “bankers’ unique pools of liquidity… found in the City of London” helped the UK to develop vaccines against the virus. Those vaccines in turn helped the country relax all its virus restrictions.
“It was capitalism that ensured we had a vaccine in less than a year,” he said in a speech light on big policy announcements.
“It is our open society and free market economy, that has produced the world’s most effective vaccines,” he continued, before warning party delegates not to “attack the wealth creators”.
Johnson’s praise follows calls from City executives for the government to get “a grip”, deal “with the Brexit fallout” and have “an actual plan for how to take the country forward”.
City executives told Financial News earlier this week that they blamed Brexit and “government mishandling” for an ongoing fuel shortage in the UK.
More than a third of executives contacted by FN cited the UK’s split from the European trading bloc as the “primary cause” of a crisis that has seen Britons queuing for hours at petrol stations across the country. Just under a third said that the problem had been provoked by the government’s poor handling of the situation.
Such shortages have been awkwardly timed for a financial services sector already weary of Brexit — bosses and lobby groups have spent the past 10 months battling to navigate compliance hurdles and a still-undecided framework for trading with EU-based financial services firms.
The government has sought to downplay the link between the supply chain constraints and Brexit, choosing instead to frame the issues as problems arising from pandemic-related restrictions on travel.
The new rules have led to labour shortages across the country particularly among lorry drivers, which has caused several thousand petrol stations to close because of a lack of fuel.
Johnson also used his conference speech to call for companies to employ less talent from abroad and raise wages. He said UK companies “will and must bring people back in the office”.
The prime minister’s tribute to bankers comes days after Rishi Sunak, the UK’s Chancellor of Exchequer, laid the groundwork for potential future tax rises to rebuild the British economy after the pandemic.
“I have to be blunt with you: Our recovery comes with a cost. Our national debt is almost 100% of GDP. We need to fix our public finances,” Sunak told delegates at the Conservative party conference on 4 October.
“While I know tax rises are unpopular, some would even say un-Conservative, I’ll tell you what is un-Conservative: Unfunded promises, reckless borrowing and soaring debt.”
To contact the author of this story with feedback or news, email Lucy McNulty