Boris Johnson stumbled through a major speech in which he lost his place in his notes, talked about a day trip to a Peppa Pig theme park and imitated a car, before insisting: “I thought it went over well.”
The Prime Minister’s keynote address to business leaders saw him struggle with his papers, at one point muttering “blast it” before shuffling sheets and begging the audience to “forgive me” as he tried to find the right point to resume.
The speech to the Confederation of British Industry was an attempt to set out how pursuing green policies could help in the “moral mission” to “level up” the UK.
But it risks being remembered for Mr Johnson’s reflections on his trip to Peppa Pig World, comparisons with Moses, a reference to Lenin and the spectacle of a Prime Minister of the United Kingdom making car noises.
Following the speech in South Shields, Mr Johnson was asked: “Is everything OK?”
He told ITV: “I think that people got the vast majority of the points I wanted to make and I thought it went over well.”
But Labour mocked Mr Johnson online, saying “the joke’s not funny any more”, while Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said: “Businesses are crying out for clarity. Instead, all they got was Boris Johnson rambling on about Peppa Pig.
“It is a perfect metaphor for Johnson’s chaotic, incompetent Government as it trashes our economy, but it is not worthy of a British Prime Minister.”
Mr Johnson told the audience how he spent Sunday at Peppa Pig World in Hampshire, describing it as “very much my kind of place” but “they are a bit stereotypical about Daddy Pig”.
Praising the ingenuity of the private sector, Mr Johnson said “no Whitehall civil servant could conceivably have come up with Peppa”, which had become a £6 billion global business with theme parks in the US and China.
He mimicked the sound of a roaring car as he said electric vehicles, while lacking the characteristic noise of a high-powered petrol engine, “move off the lights faster than a Ferrari”.
He quoted Soviet leader Lenin as he said electrification will be the key to the new “green” industrial revolution.
“Lenin once said the communist revolution was Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country,” Mr Johnson said.
“The coming industrial revolution is green power plus electrification of the whole country. We are electrifying our cars, we are electrifying our rail.”
The Prime Minister compared his 10-point plan for a green economy with the 10 commandments in the Bible.
It was “a new Decalogue that I produced exactly a year ago when I came down from Sinai”, he said.
The Prime Minister also defended his levelling-up agenda, following criticism of scaled-back plans for new railways in the North and Midlands.
Ministers announced last week that the eastern leg of HS2 between the Midlands and Leeds would be cut, while a promised Northern Powerhouse Rail link between Leeds and Manchester would run partly on existing tracks.
Tony Danker, director-general of the CBI, said the decision had “upset” businesses in the north of England.
But Mr Johnson defended the rail proposals, describing the Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) as “transformatory”.
Mr Johnson, who argued that achieving his goal of addressing imbalances in the UK would help it become a bigger economy than Germany, said: “It’s a moral thing but it’s also an economic imperative.”
The Prime Minister said there would still be “massive gains” by a mixture of investing in new lines and upgrading existing track.
“I must say that I thought, as a lesson in what happens when you tell the British people we’re investing £96 billion in the biggest railway programme for 100 years, some of the coverage was missing the point, let me put it that way,” he told the conference.
“So, Birmingham to Newcastle is 40 minutes quicker under the IRP; from Newcastle to London will have 20 minutes shaved off because of the upgrades to the East Coast Mainline.
“You are mad as a railway enthusiast, which I am, to think that you always have to dig huge new trenches through virgin countryside and villages and housing estates in order to do high-speed rail.”
He added that Chancellor Rishi Sunak wanted to cut the tax burden for businesses but the Government had to be “prudent” following £407 billion of pandemic spending that had been “extremely tough for the taxpayer”.
The Prime Minister also announced in his speech that new laws will see new homes, supermarkets and workplaces compelled to install electric car charging points.
The announcement on charging points is another step towards the banning of the sale of petrol and diesel cars in the UK by 2030.
Despite the criticism over his cartoon references, Mr Johnson went on to talk again about Peppa Pig at length during a speech to the Centre for Policy studies on Monday night.
James Mancey, operations director at Paultons Park, where Peppa Pig World is based, said the attraction was “delighted” Mr Johnson attended on Sunday.
He said: “The fact that Mr Johnson has chosen to speak at length about his visit during today’s CBI conference, positively endorsing the creativity and innovation showcased by Peppa Pig World and encouraging others to visit, is testament to the hard work of everyone at Paultons Park who create the wonderful experience our millions of guests enjoy each year.”
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