LONDON, Aug 5 — A senior British minister admitted today "I don't know where Boris is" as the premier checked out on holiday, in a week that saw the Bank of England warn a year-long recession is coming.
Downing Street has refused to say where Prime Minister Boris Johnson is holidaying for a belated honeymoon with wife Carrie this week, but The Times newspaper said the couple were in Slovenia.
Johnson will have a lot more time on his hands after September 6, when he is due to hand over to either Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak as Conservative leader, but decided to take a break sooner.
The opposition Labour party accused the government's two senior-most ministers of being "missing in action" — with Chancellor of the Exchequer Nadhim Zahawi also on holiday.
"I don't know where Boris is, but I'm in constant contact with him," Business Secretary and Truss supporter Kwasi Kwarteng told Times Radio.
He said he exchanges WhatsApp messages with both Johnson and Zahawi "all the time", and insisted that criticism the government was doing nothing about the economic crisis was "false".
Zahawi said he had remained in touch with Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey yesterday after the central bank hiked interest rates from 1.25 to 1.75 percent, the biggest rise in 27 years.
The BoE is trying to rein in surging inflation, which it warned could peak at 13.3 per cent, as it forecast the UK economy would enter a recession in the fourth quarter that will last until late 2023.
"For me, like I'm sure lots of others, there is no such thing as a holiday and not working. I never had that in the private sector, not in government," Zahawi said in a statement.
Foreign Secretary Truss and Sunak, Zahawi's predecessor as chancellor, clashed anew over how to address the crisis in a televised debate late Thursday.
A recession is "not inevitable", said Truss, who surveys of Tory members suggest is on course to succeed Johnson.
She plans an emergency budget to lower taxes immediately to combat the cost-of-living crisis, and to review the independent central bank's inflation-fighting mandate.
"To say to people, your real incomes are being squeezed and I'm going to put your taxes up, I think is just adding insult to injury," Kwarteng told Sky News.
But Sunak said tax cuts financed with more borrowing would force the BoE to increase interest rates even more, insisting on the need to maintain fiscal rigour and tame the price pressures first.
Former cabinet minister Liam Fox, who supports Sunak, warned against "magical solutions" via debt-financed tax cuts as proposed by Truss.
The two candidates were due later today to host another hustings event in front of Tory members, who have until September 2 to vote.
Ballot papers were due to go out on Monday this week, but the party delayed the process after government cyber experts raised concerns over potential hacking of online votes. — AFP