Boris Johnson said the NHS would be ‘in an even worse position’ if the UK government hadn’t implemented lockdowns throughout the coronavirus pandemic, in a strong defense of his three-year term as prime minister .
In his final speech, Johnson defended his record as prime minister on Thursday, saying he had not ‘escaped the big decisions’ on issues such as climate change or social care, as he announced a £700 million financing for the Sizewell C. nuclear power station in Suffolk, England.
Asked about his handling of the pandemic, which is the subject of a public inquiry, Johnson said the health service would have been “overwhelmed” without action to reduce the spread of Covid-19.
“People are now saying too much lockdown has caused the current problems in the NHS,” he told reporters. “I’m afraid to say the opposite is the case, in that if we hadn’t locked down, the problems we are facing now in the NHS would be even worse.”
Rishi Sunak, a Conservative leadership candidate and former chancellor, was sharply critical of the government’s handling of the pandemic this month. He told The Spectator magazine that too little consideration was given to trade-offs when deciding to lock down, including the effect on children.
Johnson’s successor, to be announced next week after voting closes in the Conservative leadership race on Friday, will face a beleaguered health service.
In addition to widespread vacancies in the health and social care sector, around 6.7 million people are waiting for non-emergency hospital treatment – the highest number in NHS history.
As well as defending his case, Johnson confirmed the government would invest £700m to take a 20% stake in French energy group EDF’s new nuclear project at Sizewell on England’s east coast – on a stipend existing £1.7bn deal made last year. .
Johnson, who has made cutting the UK’s carbon emissions and improving energy independence a priority during his tenure, issued a warning to his colleagues, including Tory leader Liz Truss, regarding the restart of hydraulic fracturing.
He said while he was “not at all intellectually or morally opposed to it”, it was “doubtful” that extracting shale gas would be easy and would not cause environmental damage unlike energy cheap wind turbine.
During the latest leadership contest roundups on Wednesday, Truss said she would ease the cost of living crisis by reducing the tax burden and increasing the national energy supply.
But she declined to outline specific additional measures she would implement as Prime Minister, saying: ‘I don’t sort things in and out. . . I’m not sitting here writing a budget or a tax event.
Johnson also warned on Thursday that soaring energy bills would mean “a very difficult winter” for households, but said his successor would be able to add to the government’s existing £37billion support package.
Johnson said he was “proud” of his administration’s work, adding that it has continuously taken a long-term approach to policy issues.
“At every stage of the last three years, what we have tried to do is put in the things that this country will need in the long term, to try to see what future generations will need for their prosperity, for their productivity and quality of life.”