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Now is the time to use Brexit to unite the country

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Boris Johnson claims now is the time to “use Brexit to unite the country”, in a major speech which will be seen as the latest move in his Tory leadership campaign.

In a “wide-ranging speech”, a label widely seen by MPs as code for a leadership bid, Mr Johnson will urge the government to focus on the “issues that drove Brexit”.

Coming only days after Theresa May suffered a humiliating Commons defeat by a record 230 votes on her Brexit deal, the speech will be seen as a further act of disloyalty.

The venue, the headquarters of the JCB empire headed by billionaire Tory donor and Leave backer Anthony Bamford, will also be seen as an attempt by Mr Johnson to look prime ministerial.

The JCB excavator plant, at Rocester in Staffordshire, was also the venue for a major speech by David Cameron on Europe and immigration policy in 2014 when he was prime minister.

Although Mr Johnson spoke in the five-day Brexit debate in the Commons on Monday, the JCB speech is his first major leadership pitch since his “Chuck Chequers” rally at the Tory conference in October.

In his speech, Mr Johnson – who quit as foreign secretary in July in protest at Mrs May’s deal – said the government should “use this moment to become more productive and more dynamic”.



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He will say: “Yes [Brexit] was about democracy… but that vote, was also triggered by a feeling that in some way the people of this country has been drifting too far apart and in areas where we need to come together.

“We all know about boardroom pay and the huge expansion in the last 25 years of the gap between the remuneration of FTSE 100 CEOs and the average workers in their firms.

“We know one of the ways big corporations have held wages down is that they have had access to unlimited pools of labour from other countries.”



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On immigration, Mr Johnson will say: “Now I am a free market capitalist and a passionate believer in the benefits of migration.

“But there must be a balance and if an influx of labour is being used not only to prevent investment in capital equipment but also in the skills and prospects of young people then we need to think carefully about how we control immigration.

“Because if we want the people of Britain to have a pay rise, as I do, then we can’t expect to do it by simply controlling immigration, we have to address all the causes of the productivity gap that has so massively expanded.



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“I don’t mean the gap between the UK, France Germany and Italy, though we are behind our main competitors the most worrying gap is between London, the most productive part of the whole European economy and other regions in the UK.

“If you look at the distribution of the Brexit vote, it is clear that people felt that gap in attainments and prospects and that they wanted something done.

“If we are to bring our nation together that means investing in great public services and safer streets, better hospitals, better transport links and better housing.”

In his speech, Mr Johnson will also call for more devolution of powers to the English regions and a halt on income tax increases, a call he issued at his rally at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham.

“We must… create the most favourable tax environment with no new taxes and no increases in rates and no one rich or poor to pay more than 50% of their income in tax,” he will say.

“Not because we want to create a tax haven for the rich but because that it is the way to stimulate the income we need to pay for this national programme of cohesion.”

And he will add: “We should take… council tax, business rates, stamp duty, land tax and the annual tax on enveloped dwellings, bundling them together giving them to local mayors and politicians to spend so that they have clear incentives to go for growth as northern powerhouse minister Jake Berry suggested last week.”

Mr Berry, MP for Rossendale and Darwen, is one of Mr Johnson’s closest allies in the Commons and was a key member of his team during his leadership bid in 2016, which he abruptly halted at his campaign launch, to the dismay of his supporters.

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