Terming the coronavirus pandemic a ‘disaster’ for the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday said the way to recover from the ‘profound shock’ will be to spend big on infrastructure, transport and other sectors, as the UK prepares to re-open from July 4.
“This has been a disaster, let’s not mince our words, this has been an absolute nightmare for the country. The country has gone through a profound shock. But in those moments you have the opportunity to change and to do things better”, he said in an interview to the newly-launched Times Radio.
“We really want to build back better, to do things differently, to invest in infrastructure, transport, broadband – you name it. I think this is the moment for a Rooseveltian approach to the UK”, he added.
The legacy of recovery of Franklin D Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the US, from a decade of troubles that included World War II, has become something of a guiding force for the Johnson government, reflected in a speech by cabinet minister Michael Gove over the weekend.
Johnson is due to outline his recovery vision in a major speech on Tuesday, expected to include promises to spend billions of pounds. The government is also due to announce this week easing quarantine curbs on air travel, allowing holidays in some EU countries.
Johnson tweeted over the weekend: “We want to build our way back to health. If Covid was a lightning flash, we’re about to have the thunderclap of the economic consequences. We’re going to be ready.” Borrowing more to pay for the big spend will pay off in the long run, he added.
Johnson, who had a brush with death after being infected by coronavirus in April, said in the radio interview that the government owed it to those who have died and suffered to look at exactly what went wrong in dealing with the crisis, and when.
He said: “I totally understand that and we will. I happen to think that the moment is not right now, when everybody is flat out, I don’t think the moment is right now for consecrating a huge amount of official time to all of that. But we are learning lessons the whole time.”
As of June 28, the UK recorded 43,550 deaths from coronavirus (the worst in Europe) and 311.151 cases. The incidence of new cases has slowed in recent days and weeks, prompting the government to kick-start its dwindling economy by re-opening some sectors from July 4.
Gove said in the Ditchley Annual lecture about Roosevelt (often mentioned by his initials as FDR): “FDR managed to save capitalism, restore faith in democracy, indeed extend its dominion, renovate the reputation of Government, set his country on a course of increasing prosperity and equality of opportunity for decades – and enabled America to emerge from a decade of peril with the system, and society, that the free citizens of the rest of the world most envied”.
“He succeeded on such a scale, of course, because he was a remarkable leader. But there were principles underpinning his approach which I think we should learn from now, as we seek to overcome our own crises of authority”.