This is a moment to be ambitious, to believe in Britain and to bounce back stronger
Prime Minister Boris Johnson talks with year-ten pupil Vedant Jitesh during a visit to Ealing Fields High School in west London, 29 June 2020 | PA Images
We must combine the energy, drive and collective willpower that protected our NHS and saved lives – not just to fix the issues most brutally illuminated by Covid, but to address the problems that we have failed to tackle for decades
It may seem a bit premature to think about Britain after Covid, when that deceptively nasty disease is still rampant in other countries and when many in this country are nervous – rightly – about more outbreaks, whether national or local. Yet we cannot continue simply to be prisoners of this crisis.
It is vital that all of us are able plan for the future, because if coronavirus has taught us one thing it is that this country needs to be ready for whatever may be coming, and we need to be able to move with levels of energy and speed that we have not needed for generations.
When we went into lockdown we knew there would be huge economic costs. We could see what would happen but we did it anyway, coming together to make a sacrifice on behalf of the most vulnerable in a display of solidarity not seen since World War Two.
Yet we are now waiting, as if between the flash of lightning and the thunderclap, with our hearts in our mouths for the full economic reverberations to appear.
So we must use this moment to plan our response. We must combine the energy, drive and concentrated burst of collective willpower that protected our NHS and saved lives – not just to fix the issues most brutally illuminated in that Covid-lightning flash but also to address the problems that we have failed to tackle for decades.
We will not be responding with “austerity”, we are not going to cheese-pare our way out of trouble.
Instead we will build, build, build. Build back better, build back greener, build back faster. We will build homes, fix the NHS, solve social care, tackle the skills crisis and mend the indefensible gap in opportunity and productivity and connectivity between the regions of the UK.
We will build a fully independent, self-governing Britain that is the most attractive place in which to live, to invest and to set up a company, with the most motivated and highly skilled workforce in world.
We are investing massively in education, with over £14bn for primary and secondary education between now and 2023 and a new10-year school building programme – beginning now with £1bn for the first 50 schools, and a vast £1.5 bn programme of refurbishing our dilapidated Further Education sector.
We will build a more beautiful Britain, protecting the landscape with flood defences and planting 30,000 hectares of trees every year, creating a new patchwork of woodlands to enchant and re-energise the soul.
A prosperous and united Kingdom must be a connected Kingdom, so we are accelerating projects to drive economic growth across the country and will carry out a study of all future road, rail, air and cross-sea links between all four parts of the UK.
We need to be able to move with levels of energy and speed that we have not needed for generations
Our infrastructure revolution will allow us to build fantastic new homes, helping young people get on the housing ladder. And to galvanise this whole process we will bring forward the most radical reforms of our planning system seen in three quarters of a century.
We will build better and greener, but also faster – and that is why the chancellor and I have set up Project Speed to scythe through red tape and get things done.
With every step we take, we will help to create thousands of high-paid high-skilled jobs and we will offer an Opportunity Guarantee so that every young person has the chance of apprenticeship or an in-work placement.
This summer we will establish a new science funding agency to back high-risk, high-reward projects.
Because this is a government that believes in British innovation. We already lead the world in quantum computing, life sciences, genomics, AI, space satellites, net zero aviation, and in the long term solutions to global warming – wind, solar, hydrogen technology, carbon capture and storage, and nuclear.
And as part of our mission to reach net zero CO2 emissions by 2050, we should set ourselves the goal now of producing the world’s first zero emission long haul passenger plane – Jet Zero.
Though we are no longer a military superpower we can be a science superpower. But we need now a new dynamic commercial spirit to make the most of UK breakthroughs so that British ideas produce new British industries and British jobs in British towns and cities.
Seeing this through will take effort, nerve, and patience. We won’t get everything right, and we certainly won’t get everything right first time
I am conscious that, taken together, this sounds like a prodigious amount of government intervention. But this is what the times demand – not just a New Deal but a Fair Deal for the British people.
As we look back over the past few months I know there are plenty of things that people will say we got wrong. There must be time to learn the lessons, and we will – we owe it to the families of all those who died before their time.
But in our response to this pandemic I know too that there were things that went emphatically right. So let’s take the zap and élan of the armed services building the Nightingales, the selflessness and the love of the extraordinary health and care workers, and the public spirit and good humour of the entire population – and let’s brew them together with the superhuman energy of Captain Tom, bounding around his garden at the age of 100 and raising millions for charity.
Take that combination and we will have found if not quite a magic potion, then at least the right formula to get us through these dark days.
There are still tough times ahead. The virus is still out there, still circling like a shark in the water.
Seeing this whole plan through will take effort, nerve, and patience and we won’t get everything right. We certainly won’t get everything right first time.
But this is the moment to be ambitious, to believe in Britain and to rise to the scale of the challenge and the opportunity.
If we deliver this plan together, then will not just bounce back, we will bounce forward – stronger and better and more united than ever before.
Boris Johnson is Conservative MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip and prime minister of the United Kingdom