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“Irresponsible” Delay To Cost-Of-Living Measures Could Cause Civil Unrest, Senior MP Tells Government

Boris Johnson is being urged not to leave tackling the cost of living crisis to his successor as Prime Minister (Alamy)

5 min read

Frustration is growing among MPs over the government's continued refusal to introduce urgent cost-of-living measures until the new Prime Minister is in place, despite escalating warnings on the severity of the crisis.

Outgoing PM Boris Johnson is being urged to ditch his pledge not to intervene until either Rishi Sunak or Liz Truss succeed him on 5 September, and agree to a package of support now for people set to be financially crippled when the energy price cap goes up this winter.

Former Tory minister and influential backbench MP Tobias Ellwood told PoliticsHome delaying any announcement until next month is not just “irresponsible” but could lead to civil unrest.

“Given the enormity of the challenge, Johnson should recognise the sense of urgency and start the ball rolling with a National Security Council meeting that begins to map out the scale of the problem and options that could be pursued,” the chair of the defence select committee said.

He said both Conservative leadership contenders Sunak and Truss should be invited.

“Blackouts this Winter are now a growing reality," Ellwood continued. 

“To delay addressing this pending crisis is not just irresponsible but could lead to greater hardship experienced across the country and consequently civil unrest.”

At a leadership hustings in Darlington on Tuesday, Truss and Sunak could not agree on whether they should hold an urgent summit with Johnson, despite a Bloomberg report revealing that the government is planning for the possibility of blackouts this winter, while sources tell PoliticsHome there are fears energy shortages could lead to empty supermarket shelves.

The frustration with government extends beyond Parliament. Tory councillor Jackson Ng told PoliticsHome the government should not be distracted by the race to replace Johnson, but instead work to come up with “strategic pledges and prepare our civil service to support our new Prime Minister on day one to immediately assure and support vulnerable people, families and businesses”.

The Buckinghamshire councillor told PoliticsHome: "I hope that both leadership contenders will not ignore the cost-of-living crisis that many are facing, even in a supposedly affluent town like Beaconsfield where many locals have started to feel the pinch.

"I am really worried about some in our town who will really struggle in the next few months. Some local residents and party members have already reached out to me hoping that more can be done for them by our local government but also nationally.”

Meanwhile the Conservative mayor for the Tees Valley Ben Houchen said neither Sunak or Truss “fully appreciates and understands the storm that awaits them” on the cost of living.

In an interview with PoliticsHome he said that many people who have always considered themselves comfortable will find themselves “struggling” to pay bills this winter, and expressed “frustration” with the two leadership rivals for their laser focus on the niche concerns of the Tory membership during the campaign. 

Johnson has faced pressure to recall Parliament and announce an extension to the billions already pledged in support, after analysts at Cornwall Insight forecast average bills could be £3,582 in October, up from £1,971 today, before hitting £4,266 in January.

The Commons is currently on its summer recess, and Downing Street has indicated no further policy announcements will be made before the current PM leaves Number 10, and there are “no plans” to recall Parliament.

It is not due to sit again until 5 September, however a number of MPs have told PoliticsHome with inflation at almost 13 per cent and the biggest interest rate rise in decades announced last week, this matter is so serious it cannot wait another month.

Labour’s Jon Trickett said MPs should be recalled to Westminster immediately and an emergency Budget held to “control food and petrol prices, and freeze energy bills”.

The former shadow Cabinet Office minister said: "It's abundantly clear that the Tories are completely oblivious to the worst cost-of-living crisis in decades. In fact we have no government at the present time.

"While hard pressed families are being crippled by soaring food and petrol prices, as well as unaffordable fuel bills, the sole focus of Tory MPs is internal party squabbles, involving two candidates equally unfit for office.”

His colleague and former Labour party chair Ian Lavery agreed, saying “people can’t wait another month”. 

“I’d fully support a parliamentary recall on the basis that we will deliver essential assistance to those in need. This is like nothing I’ve ever experienced in my life time,” he said.

He also suggested if further support is not announced there could be “civil unrest”, calling it “desperate measures for desperate times”. He referenced the growing ‘Don’t Pay UK’ campaign, where people are being urged to cancel their direct debits unless energy firms bring their prices down.

Another Labour MP backed the recall of Parliament, telling PoliticsHome: “If anything is going to be rolled out in time to help those it needs to, it really needed to be agreed ideally before summer recess, but the second best option is now.

“Particularly for small businesses in my area, and places like churches that are not covered by the price cap, this is going to be absolutely crippling.”

But a Tory MP and former Cabinet minister was dismissive of the need for urgent new measures.

“Where does it end?”, they asked, and rejected the suggestion Parliament needed to be recalled or anything done before Johnson’s successor is in place.

“I am pretty certain that there will be a very swift budget after the appointment of the new prime minister,” they added.

“At that stage, I think there will be no option but to provide additional targeted support. The question is, where does it end?”

Former justice minister James Cartlidge also rejected calls for further support now, saying it was for Johnson’s replacement to deal with.

“There is a whole package of support already on its way, and any further should be put in place promptly by the new Prime Minister,” he told PoliticsHome

But shadow employment minister Alison McGovern dismissed this suggestion, saying ministers still in place should be “working with civil servants now and bringing forward proposals with the consent of the existing Prime Minister”.

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