British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/MIKHAIL SVETLOV
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/MIKHAIL SVETLOV

London — As the global rich gather in Davos, Switzerland, Boris Johnson is staying in Britain to remind voters why he called his new administration the “people’s government”.

The prime minister, who is boycotting the annual jamboree of the World Economic Forum (WEF), is considering the idea of moving the House of Lords out of London, possibly to York, 32km north of the British capital.

The shock revelation emerged a day after chancellor of the exchequer Sajid Javid warned business leaders to expect divergence from EU rules after Brexit, whether or not a free-trade deal is concluded by the end of 2020.

Johnson will reinforce his vision of a “global Britain” trading freely outside the EU on Monday, when he hosts African leaders at an inaugural summit. He is set to call for the UK to be the “investment partner of choice” on the continent.

Johnson won a commanding majority in the general election by persuading pro-Brexit districts in northern England and the Midlands to back his Conservative Party for the first time. He did so by promising to take Britain out of the EU on January 31, but he must now deliver economically if he’s to retain their support.

The premier has spoken repeatedly about “levelling up” across the UK and the budget due in March is expected to include billions of pounds of new infrastructure projects to boost the economy of northern England, which has been hit by a decade of austerity and the decline of heavy industry.

In an indication of his new focus, ministers on Sunday confirmed that the House of Lords — the upper, unelected chamber of parliament — could be moved permanently to York, a historic city of little more than 200,000 people, or Birmingham in central England. The news was first reported by the Sunday Times.

‘Do things differently’

“It’s one of range of things we are looking into. It’s about demonstrating to people we are going to do things differently,” Conservative Party chair James Cleverly told Sky TV’s “Sophy Ridge on Sunday” show. “The Labour Party lost millions of voters because they failed to listen.”

Suspicions that Johnson might use his House of Commons majority to sever ties with Brexit hardliners in his party and deliver a soft divorce appeared to be quashed by Javid in an interview with the Financial Times published on Saturday.

The chancellor said Britain would no longer abide by EU regulations and businesses needed to adjust, raising the stakes as the government prepares to embark on trade talks with the EU. Johnson has given himself just 11 months to tie up a deal. If he fails, Britain will be headed for another cliff-edge Brexit at the end of the year.

Javid’s comments prompted dismay among businesses, which fear divergence could cost billions of pounds with sectors such as car making, aerospace and food manufacturing bearing the brunt. Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry lobby group, said alignment had supported jobs and competitiveness in some of the most deprived regions of the UK.

Johnson also appears to be on collision course with businesses over immigration, with reports that the government is proposing to bring in restrictions on low-skilled migrants at the end the year, two years earlier than planned.

Africa focus

As Britain leaves the EU, Johnson is emphasising the commercial opportunities in fast-growing regions such as Africa. He is due to address the UK-Africa Investment Summit in London, with the government promising hundreds of millions of pounds of financing to spur exports and investment.

The gathering underscores fears that Britain risks losing out in the region. China, already a huge investor on the continent, hosted dozens of African leaders in 2018 and Russia, an expanding presence, followed suit last year. France and Turkey are also aggressively pushing trade on the continent.

“One of the big areas for us where we have a huge advantage is the City of London,” international development secretary Alok Sharma told Bloomberg Television on Monday, citing the UK’s support for African nations to develop local currency bonds. “There is a real opportunity for us to do more in terms of investors from here getting into Africa.”

Johnson will also highlight his commitment to tackling climate change by announcing an end to UK support for thermal coal mining or coal power plants overseas, according to his office.


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