Tories Focus on U.K. Recovery Amid Criticism of Covid Response

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Boris Johnson’s ministers tried to shift the focus onto plans for Britain’s economic recovery, amid growing tensions in the ruling Conservative Party over the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab promised the U.K. would “bounce back stronger” from the crisis and International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said new trade agreements will give companies suffering from “depressed domestic demand” a “bigger slice of the international pie.”

Truss also said the government must prevent “predatory” company takeover bids from abroad “that don’t necessarily have Britain’s best interests at heart” — especially at a time when firms are undervalued during the pandemic.She declined to give an example.

The annual conference is taking place online this year due to the virus, robbing ministers of the chance to personally quell dissent among the Tory grassroots, following criticism of the government’s lockdown measures and problems with testing.

Read more: U.K.’s Johnson Blames ‘Complacent’ Public for Surge in Covid

In his keynote speech, Raab struck an upbeat, future-facing tone, urging the party “not to shrink into the shadows but to look to the stars.” He questioned why people found it “so hard” to take pride in Britain and why “the positive things we achieve get so little air time.” He cited the country’s efforts to secure a Covid-19 vaccine.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Steve Barclay said the government would not return to austerity as the country recovers from the pandemic, while Cabinet Officer Minister Michael Gove expressed “optimism” that the U.K. could secure a trade deal with the European Union that would be “hugely helpful” for some parts of the economy.

There was also a renewed focus on the government’s “leveling up” agenda, with talk of moving government departments outside London and a fund to support Tory MPs in so-called Red Wall seats — districts which typically voted for the Labour Party but switched to the Tories last year.

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