Boris Johnson’ bizarre speech to business chiefs at the CBI where he referenced Peppa Pig at length and lost his place for 20 seconds could jeopardise future foreign investment into the UK, shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves has said.
Reeves said that “f***k business”, a quote attributed to Johnson several years ago at a private dinner, was now the “organising principle” of the government.
Johnson’s speech on Monday to the CBI was widely panned by Tory MPs, with one minister telling City A.M. that it was “appalling” and that it resembled bumbling TV character Mr Bean.
The episode spurred fresh concerns among some portions of the Tory party about Johnson’s suitability for office, particularly after a torrid few weeks of gaffes, policy U-turns and sleaze scandals.
Reeves told the PA news agency that the government’s decision to scrap parts of HS2 in Yorkshire and to cancel a new rail line between Leeds and Manchester showed Johnson’s “commitments to levelling up are in tatters”.
“The Prime Minister said a couple of years ago ‘f*** business’, and we thought that was just a quip, but it turns out to be, I think, the organising principle of this Government, and the disrespect that he showed towards business in his speech on Monday, I think, is the final straw for a lot of businesses who are fed up of the complacency and the disregard that the Prime Minister and this Government are treating them with,” she said.
“I think it was very disrespectful, the Prime Minister’s speech – not on top of his brief, bumbling around, and he may think it’s funny and part of his persona, but people who are making decisions about hiring, investing and what country to do that in, I think would… go away, just thinking that we’ve got somebody in charge of this country who has no idea what’s going on.
“It does call into question his judgment and his seriousness for the role that he occupies”.
Johnson defended his speech shortly after he gave it, saying that “I think people got the vast majority of the points I wanted to make and I thought it went over well”.
Foreign direct investment into the UK largely stalled between 2016 and 2019 due to Brexit-related political uncertainty.
There are signs this will begin to improve post-Covid, with the UK attracting the second highest amount of foreign direct investment this year in Europe.