Boris Johnson predicts Britain is entering a new Golden Age. We test his claims in five key areas.

IN HIS first statement to Parliament as Prime Minister, Boris Johnson promised to bring a “golden age” for Britain.

But leading experts have issued warnings over his unrealistic Brexit plans, “arrogance” over an economy faltering in the face of Brexit and a shake-up of immigration which may prove “disastrous” for Scotland.

Echoing US President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” rhetoric, Johnson told MPs on Thursday of how he planned to make Britain “the greatest place on earth”.

Richard Carr, lecturer in history and politics at Anglia Ruskin University, believes Johnson’s “vague nationalism” is symptomatic of the new age of populism.

The National:

“The great question mark is the Cabinet he has appointed, which is obviously very pro-Brexit and very to the right of the Conservative Party.

“He has not done the moderate, centre-ground of Cameron, of hug your enemies and bring them in and try and reach some consensus.

READ MORE: Boris Johnson's Cabinet is filled with failures and nonentities

“Boris has picked people who agree with him, but not necessarily to appeal to the wider public.

“That is the big difference between populist politics and the moderate end of things – populists appeal to their supporters, but have little interest in the population who don’t like them in any way.”

We look at expert views on the promises Johnson made in his speech.


THE issue of leaving the EU unsurprisingly dominated Johnson’s speech, with the Prime Minister pledging that Brexit will happen by October 31 “whatever the circumstances”.

He set up a showdown with the EU, saying he would prefer to leave with a deal, but the abolition of the Irish backstop would have to be part of that.

Johnson said: “For our part, we will throw ourselves into these negotiations with the greatest energy and determination and in a spirit of friendship. I hope that the EU will be equally ready and will rethink its current refusal to make any changes to the withdrawal agreement.

“If it does not, we will of course have to leave the EU without an agreement under Article 50.”

But Professor Simon Usherwood, deputy director of think tank UK in a Changing Europe, said: “On the basis of what he has said so far, as Prime Minister, he hasn’t offered a good reason for the EU to try to renegotiate.

“He says he wants to try to get rid of the backstop, but he doesn’t explain to obviate the need for that.

“He is not offering substance, he is saying we are ready to negotiate – as if it is the EU’s responsibility.”

Professor Usherwood pointed out that the closeness of the Brexit deadline – now just over three months away – means there is little time to get any kind of deal through.

He added: “The thought you could renegotiate and get a meaningful vote through Parliament and get the necessary legislation through Parliament by the end of October seems highly unlikely.

“That also comes with the problem that is he saying if the process is ongoing on October 31 they just stop because the date is more important than the deal being negotiated?

“Or is he saying the date is moveable? That he hasn’t explained.”

The National:

Another issue Johnson has failed to address, Professor Usherwood said, was if Parliament refuses to accept a no-deal Brexit and wants him to seek another extension.

He said: “That is the most obvious failure – Parliament has repeatedly said it won’t accept a no deal, so why does he think this has changed just because he is Prime Minister?

“Part of what he is trying to do at the moment is demonstrate he is not Theresa May, with his reshuffle, to show he is powerful, he is not beholden to particular interests or how things were.

“He wants to say here I am, new ideas, new thinking, new faces and all of those things are clearly to try and create some momentum.

“But his problem hasn’t ever been Cabinet, it has been Parliament – and he can’t change that with a reshuffle.”


ON the subject of the economy, Johnson was equally buoyant, proclaiming by 2050 it is possible the UK “will be the greatest and most prosperous economy in Europe”.

He stated: “Our country will boast the most formidable transport and technological connectivity on the planet, by unleashing the productive power of the whole United Kingdom – not just of London and the South East but of every corner of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

“We will have closed forever the productivity gap and seen to it that no town is left behind ever again, no community ever forgotten, our children and grandchildren will be living longer, happier and healthier lives.”

Johnson also went on to say: “We will prepare an economic package to boost British business and lengthen this country’s lead, which seems so bitterly resented by opposition members, as the number one destination in this continent for overseas investment – a status that is made possible at least partly by the diversity, talent and skills of our workforce.”

But recent assessments paint a less rosy picture for the economic outlook in Britain in the near future.

Leading think tank the National Institute of Economic and Social Research warned last week that economic growth had stalled and cut its forecasts for growth.

It said that even with a Brexit deal, there is likely to be an impact on public finances and a no-deal scenario would mean “no palpable growth for some years to come”.

The National:

The latest assessment from the Office for Budget Responsibility, the Government’s independent forecasting body, has predicted a no-deal Brexit would plunge Britain into a recession that would shrink the economy by 2%, push unemployment above 5% and result in house prices falling by around 10%.

Andrew Sentance, an independent business economist and former member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee said: “I think it is very arrogant of Boris Johnson to proclaim a new Golden Age for the economy even before he has completed a single day in office.

“Of course there is a lot of potential in the UK economy and there are many things a new government can do to realise this potential for economic growth and rising living standards.

“But there is also a major obstacle in our path – Brexit – which will be a dampener for economic progress over the next five to 10 years.

“Until we have navigated our way through the Brexit process, talk of a new Golden Age for the UK should be kept under wraps.”


THE new UK Government is reviewing immigration policy with a view to introducing a points-based system similar to that adopted by countries like Australia.

Johnson told Parliament: “No-one believes more strongly than I do in the benefits of migration to our country, but I am clear that our immigration system must change.”

He said the review would be the first step in a “radical rewriting” of our immigration system, adding that he is “convinced that we can produce a system that the British people can have confidence in”.

With the EU principle of “free movement” also being ditched under Brexit, concerns have been raised about the impact on Scotland.

Scotland’s estimated population was 5,404,700 in mid-2016, the highest on record, and is projected to increase by 5% by 2041.

Statisticians say that the whole of the increase is driven by migrant labour and Tory critics add that any reduction has the potential to seriously damage Scotland’s demographic resilience.

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Holyrood Minister for Migration Ben Macpherson (above) said: “It is clear that the UK Government’s immigration policy proposals would be disastrous for Scotland. Ending free movement will be particularly damaging to the future of Scotland.

“The UK Government’s focus on reducing immigration does not reflect the needs of our economy, our public services or our communities.

“EU citizens make a huge contribution to our communities and economy and the Scottish Government is absolutely committed to doing all it can to support EU citizens who wish to remain in Scotland.”

He added: “It is important to remember that all of our population growth over the next 25 years is projected to come from migration.

“Yet this growth, and in turn our country’s future prosperity, is under threat due to the UK Government’s ‘hostile environment’ immigration policies and their determination to end freedom of movement.”

The SNP’s Westminster spokesman on immigration, Stuart McDonald, said: “Whatever else Johnson does with migration, we know he will be seeking to end what has been a real golden age of ‘free movement’ for Scotland.

“Its potential loss makes it even more essential for the days of ‘one size fits all’ immigration policy being made in London to be brought to an end.”


THE new PM used his inaugural speech to Parliament to back the net-zero carbon emissions target which was enshrined in law by his predecessor Theresa May in her final weeks as Prime Minister.

He said: “Our kingdom in 2050, thanks to the initiative of the previous Prime Minister, will no longer make any contribution whatsoever to the destruction of our precious planet brought about by carbon emissions.

“We will have led the world in delivering that net-zero target.

“We will be the home of electric vehicles, cars, even planes, powered by British made battery technology, being developed right here, right now.”

Britain is the first major economy to have such a net-zero emission target, but there has already been concerns raised over the action which will be required to implement it.

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Following the announcement of the move, the Government’s advisory Committee on Climate Change (CCC) warned UK action to curb greenhouse gas emissions is lagging far behind what is needed.

Lord Deben, chairman of CCC, said: “Reducing emissions to net zero by 2050, requires real action by Government now.”

In the past Johnson’s record on the environment has been varied – for example, as London mayor he ditched plans for an extension of the city’s congestion charge zone, but did roll out a public bike hire scheme.

He has previously opposed plans for a third runway at Heathrow, but has now appointed Grant Shapps as Transport Secretary – who has pressed for the airport expansion.

Mary Church, head of campaigns at Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “If Johnson is serious about responding to the crisis he should start by cancelling the third runway at Heathrow, saying no to new oil and gas development and redirecting the vast subsidies propping up the fossil fuel industry to creating decent jobs in a renewable energy economy.”


ON the issue of technology, Johnson spoke of a “bioscience sector liberated from anti-genetic modification rules” and of “light resistant crops that will feed the world”.

His vow to ditch EU rules has reignited the debate over the use of GM – with some expressing concern over the possibility of a less rigorous approach being taken.

John Dupre, professor in philosophy of science and director of Egenis, the Centre for the Study of Life Sciences at the University of Exeter, said: “While Mr Johnson is right that there are genuine and perhaps exciting possibilities for genomically modified crops, he is quite wrong to suppose that these should be ‘liberated’ from serious review of the consequences of their introduction and regulation of their use.

“Any technology for intervention in a system as complex as a plant or an animal must be proportionately sophisticated.

“Even with the latest genome modification techniques – genome editing like CRISPR – it takes a great deal of work to make sure that only the desired changes have been induced.

“And it is even more difficult to be sure that the only consequence of the change introduced is the one that was intended.

“Beyond the complexity of the intervention in the organism there are wider possible implications. For example, are we doing enough to maintain the crop diversity that is likely to become increasingly vital as the environment undergoes rapid change?

“There may well be an important future role for genetic modification of our food crops and livestock, but opening this possibility to an unregulated free market is a terrifying prospect that could lead to all kinds of unanticipated bad consequences.”

Johnson spoke of developing satellite and earth observation systems that are “the envy of the world” and being the seedbed for the most exciting investments on the planet.”

However Britain walked away from the military aspects of the EU’s Galileo global navigation satellite system due to Brexit.