UK parties attack rival spending plans in election feud

National News

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits the headquarters of Iceland Foods in Deeside, Wales, Friday Nov. 8, 2019. Johnson pushed hard for the early election, which is coming more than two years ahead of schedule, after Parliament thwarted his plans to have Britain leave the EU on Oct. 31. Johnson hopes to win an outright majority in Parliament so he can pass a divorce bill in time for Britain to leave by the next Brexit deadline on Jan. 31. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/Pool via AP)

LONDON (AP) — Britain’s biggest political parties traded allegations of financial recklessness on Sunday as they vied to win voters’ trust on the economy ahead of the country’s Dec. 12 election.

The main opposition Labour Party accused the governing Conservatives of spreading fake news with an eye-catching claim that Labour spending pledges will cost 1.2 trillion pounds ($1.5 trillion) over five years.

The figure is based on assuming a Labour government would implement every policy it has adopted in principle. Labour says not all those pledges will be in its official election platform.

Labour economy spokesman John McDonnell said the Conservative figure was “an incompetent mish-mash of debunked estimates and bad maths.”

Treasury chief Sajid Javid stood by the estimate, saying Labour’s proposals were “absolutely reckless.”

The Conservatives, for their part, have abandoned a decade-long commitment to trimming government spending, promising to invest more money in health care, police and infrastructure. The party says it can loosen the purse-strings because the economy is finally stable, 11 years after the 2008 global financial crisis — a claim disputed by opponents.

“We’ve changed the fiscal rules,” Javid told the BBC. “Because of the hard work of the British people over the last 10 years, our economy is much stronger. We now are looking forward to a decade of renewal and as we do that we can afford to invest more.”

Many economists warn that having Britain leave the European Union, no matter what the divorce terms, will dampen U.K. economic growth because it will bring new obstacles to trade with the bloc, which is Britain’s biggest trading partner.

More than three years after Britons narrowly voted to leave the EU, the date and terms of its departure are still up in the air. With British politicians deadlocked, the EU has set a new Brexit deadline of Jan. 31, with some EU officials warning this could be their last Brexit extension.

In the latest sign that Brexit uncertainty is destabilizing the country, credit rating agency Moody’s downgraded Britain’s outlook from stable to negative on Friday.

Moody’s said Brexit had caused “inertia and, at times, paralysis” that had undermined Britain’s institutional strength, and advised that the U.K. economy could be “more susceptible to shocks than previously assumed.”

Johnson pushed for the December election — taking place more than two years early — in hopes of breaking Britain’s political impasse over Brexit.

All 650 seats in the House of Commons are up for grabs. Johnson says that if voters give the Conservatives a majority he will “get Brexit done” and take the U.K. out of the European Union by the new Jan. 31 deadline.

Labour says it will negotiate a new divorce deal with the EU and then let voters decide between leaving on those terms and remaining in the bloc.

The centrist Liberal Democrats, who want to cancel Brexit, and the Brexit Party, which advocates leaving without a deal, are trying to win voters on opposite sides of the Brexit divide.

Meanwhile the government continues to be dogged by questions about an unpublished parliamentary report into alleged Russian interference in U.K. politics. The report by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee needs government approval before it can be made public.

Labour has accused the government of failing to disclose the report because it would lead to other questions about the links between Russia and the 2016 campaign to leave the EU, which was spearheaded by Johnson.

The Sunday Times newspaper said the report also names wealthy Russians who have donated to the Conservative Party, information that would be embarrassing for Johnson’s party.

Committee chairman Dominic Grieve has accused the government of “sitting on the report.” Conservative lawmakers and a former head of the MI5 intelligence service have joined in calls for it to be published.

The government says the report has not yet gone through the clearance process necessary for publication.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said it cannot be published during Britain’s five-week election campaign because electoral rules mean the government is “not allowed to publish things which are seen as controversial in any way.”

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