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Boris Johnson tours UK to try and shore up authority in the face of questions over his leadership



Boris Johnson will this week embark on a tour of the UK designed to convince the public that he is getting on with his policy agenda despite questions over his future.

Critics of the Prime Minister have accused him of trying to distract voters with the trip to Scotland and the North of England starting from Monday.

He is expected to focus on projects which demonstrate “levelling up” in action as well as Covid-related facilities, ahead of the likely decision to remove all remaining virus restrictions in England next week.

The UK and Scottish Governments will announce that two “green freeports” will be set up in Scotland as part of a post-Brexit push to create the tax-free ports designed to make Britain more of a hub for imports and exports.

Bidders will have to pledge to hit net zero carbon emissions by 2045 as well as benefit their local economy.

Mr Johnson said: “Freeports will help to accelerate our plan to level up communities across the whole of the United Kingdom. They have the power to be truly transformational by creating jobs and investment opportunities to enable people to reach their potential.”

As well as visiting a Scottish manufacturing site, the Prime Minister is planning to tour an oncology centre in North-West England which is contributing to clearing the Covid-19 treatment backlog.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid is also going on tour this week, holding a daily Q&A session with members of the public to gather their ideas on how to improve the health service in the wake of the pandemic.

He said: “We must tackle the backlog of people waiting for treatment, bring NHS and social care services closer together and deal with the stark inequalities and level up the health of the nation.”

Opposition politicians claimed Mr Johnson was seeking to avoid a leadership challenge by changing the topic of public conversation.

Daisy Cooper, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, told i: “This tour is another desperate attempt to paper over his untenable leadership. Johnson will try to spin this empty slogan, but everyone knows you can’t trust a word he says. For the good of people up and down the country, he should resign.”

The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford added: “With the police closing in on his rule-breaking, Mr Johnson should use his farewell tour to apologise for the damage he has inflicted on Scotland and hand in his resignation.”

A No 10 source insisted the Prime Minister was not trying to distract from “Partygate”, saying: “We’re pushing ahead – there’s lots to get on with.”

Supporters of Mr Johnson have warned colleagues that the Conservatives risk a return to the electoral disaster of the John Major years if they continue to fight over the leadership.

In an MPs’ WhatsApp group, minister Conor Burns said that a film set currently in Westminster which portrays a New Labour conference was a “stark reminder of disunity and the end of John Major’s tenure”.

Jackie Doyle-Price retorted that “competent decision-making” would be needed to unite the party.

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