Boris: fast internet for every home by 2025
Leadership favourite promises to eliminate the ‘digital divide’ if he becomes PM
EVERY home in Britain will have access to super-fast broadband within six years if Boris Johnson becomes prime minister, he pledges today.
The front-runner in the Tory leadership contest promises to deliver “full fibre for all by 2025”, eight years quicker than the Government’s “laughably unambitious” current plans.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph, he says that it is “a disgrace that this country should suffer from a deep digital divide, so that many rural areas and towns are simply left behind”. Closing this divide is part of his “moral mission to unite Brexit Britain”, he adds.
It comes as Mr Johnson was criticised by Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, after failing to turn up for last night’s Tory leadership hustings on Channel 4, saying: “Where is Boris?”
However, Brexiteer Tories said Mr Johnson was right to sit out the 90 minute-long hustings because of the way the other contenders had been allowed to gang up on Dominic Raab, the only other “hard” Brexiteer.
Analysis showed that Mr Raab was given the least amount of time to answer, a third less than Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary.
Meanwhile, Mr Johnson’s campaign was set for a significant boost today with Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, who withdrew from the race on Friday, saying he would now back him.
Mr Johnson’s broadband commitment would represent a major victory for The Daily Telegraph’s Better Broadband campaign which has been pushing ministers to improve connectivity to rural homes for the past three years.
Ministers last year identified 10 per cent of UK homes and offices, largely in rural and remote areas, that were unlikely to receive super-fast connections until 2033.
Super-fast broadband is seen as vital to allow families access to sports and films online, as well accessing public services such as HM Revenue and Customs, applying for jobs, renewing car tax and booking a holiday.
Writing in The Telegraph today, Mr Johnson says: “If we want to unite our country and our society, we should commit now to delivering full fibre much, much faster”. He adds: “A fast internet connection is not some metropolitan luxury. It is an indispensable tool of modern life ... It is becoming the single giant ecosystem in which all economic activity takes place.
“This is 21st century Britain – the country that helped to pioneer the very idea of the World Wide Web – and yet we have only 7 per cent coverage of full-fibre broadband. We need to prioritise the rural areas that are currently at the far back of the queue, the three million homes and business that are rated among the 10 per cent most difficult to cover.”
His intervention is a bid to force the five other candidates in the leadership race to declare policy commitments after they have repeatedly attacked him.
The Telegraph disclosed on Saturday how Government whips are concerned that the repeated “blue-on-blue” attacks were an own goal for the party and gave verbal ammunition to Labour.
Yesterday, Mr Raab warned the party would be “toast” unless it took Britain out of the EU by the Oct 31 deadline.
Rory Stewart, now the second favourite to become Tory leader, said he would recruit 50,000 people for citizen assemblies that would aim to settle the Brexit issue in just three weeks.
He told The Andrew Marr Show on BBC One yesterday: “It would be like a jury selected very scientifically across the country, whittled down to be repre- sentative of the country as a whole” and then “make recommendations”.
Jeremy Hunt, the third favourite in the contest, refused to back Mr Johnson’s commitment to leave by Oct 31, saying he could not be sure this would happen by the end of the year.
He added: “How can anyone sensibly answer that question when you don’t know the context?”
‘[It is] a disgrace that this country should suffer from a deep digital divide ... rural areas are simply left behind’
EVEN before Channel 4’s Tory leadership debate began, front-runner Boris Johnson was the central topic of debate – and the source of the first joke.
Highlighting the vacant lectern where the former foreign secretary was being empty-chaired, the C4 presenter Krishnan Guru-murthy said: “There’s still time for Mr Johnson to get a taxi from north London … he is welcome to take his place at any point in tonight’s programme.”
It was almost half an hour, however, before any of the candidates took a shot at the former foreign secretary – and it was the man who took his job and is one of his closest rivals, who broke cover.
“We have been talking about Brexit for 25 minutes, where is Boris?” said Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary. “If he can’t face five friendly colleagues, how can he face 27 EU countries? He should be here to answer all the questions.”
While the “friendly colleagues” used abbreviated names in a show of bonhomie – “Dom” for Dominic Raab and “Saj” for Sajid Javid – the divisions in their positions on Brexit were quickly exposed and exploited.
Rory Stewart, the International Development Secretary, was the first to go for the jugular, challenging Mr Raab, former Brexit secretary, over how he would deliver a no-deal Brexit in the face of parliamentary opposition: “My question for Dom is how is he going to do it?”
He accused Mr Raab of suggesting something “deeply undemocratic” and “deeply disturbing” with his threat to prorogue Parliament to drive through a no-deal Brexit. Mr Raab became, in effect, a proxy for the absent Mr Johnson with their shared hardline approach to no-deal Brexit, as the three other candidates also turned on him. Mr Hunt said shutting Parliament would be a “profound mistake”, while Mr Javid mocked it with a barbed: “We’re not selecting a dictator of our country, we are selecting a prime minister.”
Mr Raab hit back by accusing Mr Stewart of pursuing a “Venezuelan option” in his suggestion of a citizens’ assembly. And he turned on his rivals for “taking things off the table”. “Unless we keep no deal on the table, we can’t deliver Brexit,” said Mr Raab.
All but Mr Stewart made clear that in a choice between no Brexit and no deal, they would choose no deal, prompting the outnumbered International Development Secretary to declare: “There’s a competition of machismo here. Everyone is saying ‘I am tougher’.”
To applause from the studio audience, Mr Stewart then likened the idea of renegotiating with the EU to “trying to cram a whole series of rubbish bins into the rubbish bin”. “And my wife said, ‘You’re never going to get these three huge bags of rubbish in’,” he said. “And I was tempted, like Michael, like Dom, to say, ‘Believe in the bin! Believe in Britain!’ Right? It’s nonsense!”
However, Mr Stewart was, in turn, criticised for simply offering a reheated version of Theresa May’s failed deal.
Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, played the statesman card by pointing to his ability to take on difficult Cabinet jobs and make a success of them – previously at education and justice. It was for that reason he could deliver a Brexit deal, he claimed: “I led the Leave campaign. For me, it’s personal.”
“I am the candidate who can secure a deal. I’m saying I can get the European Union to change their approach.”
Attention turned to the politician who is potentially the Conservative party’s biggest threat: Nigel Farage, with a question from the audience on bringing him into the negotiations.
While Mr Stewart said he would love to engage with the Brexit Party leader as the man who led the Leave campaign, Mr Gove appeared to rule it out, saying “Brexit is not about one politician’s ego trip”. Mr Javid also appeared to reject it, saying Brexit was the “job of the elected Government”. Mr Hunt said Mr Farage was “not the answer” because “we are a tolerant Britain”.
Evidence of the tensions – and what is at stake – came when Mr Gove clashed with the host of the debate, Krishnan Guru-murthy. “You are good at interrupting,” he told the presenter sternly. “Now it’s time to listen.”
One of the final questions was how the new leader would reunite the country. Mr Javid mentioned the third anniversary of the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox, saying: “One of the things that she said so often was that we have got so much more in common as a country.”
He said he sees division in his role as Home Secretary and is attacked for his Muslim background, adding: “I do feel today there is too much division in our society.” He said it was “the number one thing” to address in Britain.
Asked about their greatest weaknesses, Mr Gove said “impatience” – before Mr Guru-murthy interrupted, asking if it was hypocrisy, after his recent admission to using cocaine.
“I made a mistake. I learnt from my mistake,” he replied brusquely.
Mr Raab said he was restless, while Mr Stewart admitted having “a lot of weaknesses”. Mr Javid admitted he was “very stubborn” and added: “If you want to be prime minister you need to be ready to listen.”
Mr Hunt said: “My friends would say I’m someone who looks gentle but is incredibly stubborn underneath.”
It is a question Boris Johnson will no doubt be asked when he finally appears on the televised hustings tomorrow on the BBC.
Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt, Dominic Raab, Rory Stewart and Sajid Javid take part in Channel 4’s Tory leadership debate, chaired by presenter Krishnan Guru-murthy