Fears thousands of jobs will go at factories hammered by soaring energy costs as steel boss demands Boris Johnson ‘bangs ministerial heads together’ – and says ‘now is not the time’ for the PM to sun himself in Spain
British business leaders today slammed Boris Johnson for going on holiday during the energy crisis when he should be in No 10 to ‘bang ministerial heads together’ amid fears thousands of jobs could go as factories are hammered by the soaring cost of gas and electricity.
Gareth Stace, the director general of UK Steel, has said ‘now is not the time’ for the Prime Minister to be in Spain at a £25,000-a-week private estate near Marbella as Britain faces a ‘winter of discontent’ due to crippling energy costs and shortages of food and petrol.
Within hours of Mr Johnson leaving for the Costa del Sol chaos broke out in Whitehall over whether there would be a rapid bailout to help struggling firms survive the energy crisis.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said he was looking to see whether ‘existing support’ was ‘sufficient’ despite warnings that some factories could shut in weeks. But in an extraordinary briefing war, the Treasury, which is run by Chanceller Rishi Sunak, accused him of ‘making things up’ by claiming its departments were in talks about helping industry.
Mr Stace has today called on the Prime Minister to ‘bang ministerial heads together’ to avoid an industry crisis hitting his sector. He told LBC: ‘This is a critical time. The Business Secretary has also said it’s a critical situation, and therefore why is Government just sitting on its hands and doing absolutely nothing at the moment?
‘From my point of view, today, with the reported Government infighting between the Treasury and BEIS, the Prime Minister now needs to bang ministerial heads together, take control and remember that if he does nothing, then his levelling-up ambition will be left in tatters.’
Andrew Percy, the Conservative MP for Brigg and Goole whose constituency contains the gigantic Scunthorpe steelworks, called on the government to ‘grow a pair’ and intervene to save jobs.
He told The Times: ‘Ministers have a choice. They can bury their heads in the sand and pretend they have no responsibility, or they can grow a pair and accept that a lot of the problems we have at the moment with energy costs in the UK are a consequence of decisions taken by governments in this country. Whether it’s labour shortages, whether it’s energy costs, we seem to be saying: “Well, industry needs to go away and sort that out. It’s not for us”.’
But defending the PM’s holiday Security Minister Damian Hinds said: ‘What is important for the rest of us actually, for the whole country, is that the Prime Minister does get to have some family time, does get to have a break’.
Boris Johnson is sunning himself in Spain as Britain is in the midst of energy, petrol and supply chain crises
Gareth Stace, left, the director general of UK Steel, has said ‘now is not the time’ for the Prime Minister to be in Spain at a on a £25,000-a-week private estate near Marbella and should ‘bang ministerial heads together’ as a row between Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, right, and the Treasury over funding broke out
Boris Johnson and his pregnant wife Carrie are taking a foreign break at a £25,000-a-week Marbella hideaway owned by the Prime Minister’s wife’s close friend and Tory peer Zac Goldsmith
Experts say that Tory seats taken from Labour at the latest election won’t stay blue for long if thousands of jobs start going in factories producing steel, glass, chemicals and building materials.
Mr Stace added that he wants the British Government to follow the lead taken by the Italian Government, who have ‘taken off’ some policy costs that it had applied to industrial consumers.
‘We’re asking very much the same because when Government says ‘We’re not going to do any bailouts’, that’s not what we’re asking for,’ he said.
‘What we’re asking for is, ‘hey Government, we’ve been telling you for a decade that your policies add something like £55 million that we pay in the UK, as the steel sector, that our competitors in, say, Germany don’t pay. Historically that puts us at a competitive disadvantage.’
Labour says the Government is in chaos because of a series of crises. The cost of gas in particular will see annual bills rise for all Britons in the coming year by up to £1,000 and energy-hungry factories say they may have to reduce hours or shut down completely.
There are still shortages of petrol in London and the south-east almost three weeks into the crisis while there are gaps on shelves amid warnings that Christmas foods and gifts could be in short supply due to a lack of HGV drivers and problems with the global supply chain.
Kwasi Kwarteng told Sky News he was ‘constantly’ in conversation with the Treasury to see what support can be given to manufacturers and energy firms.
But a Treasury source hit back, saying: ‘This is not the first time the [Business] Secretary has made things up in interviews. To be crystal clear, the Treasury are not involved in any talks.’
Firms have slammed ministers for failing to help protect companies from an energy price shock that could see factories shutting down within weeks.
Heavy-industry leaders, covering steel, brick manufacturing, chemicals, ceramics and papers, are furious at the inaction.
UK Steel director general Gareth Stace warned of possible ‘long-term damage’ to the industry. He said: ‘Currently, UK steel-makers face energy prices five times higher than the average of last year, in addition to remarkable price volatility.
‘As such, longer and more frequent pauses in production are becoming a fact of life. These circumstances are simply not sustainable for the sector. We urge the Government to take action, as has been done in Italy and Portugal, to support the sector.’
Dr Laura Cohen, chief executive of the British Ceramic Confederation, said: ‘I am really concerned that the Secretary of State hasn’t understood the urgency of what we’re asking for.
‘We need practical gas emergency measures that keep enough gas available and our factories going when supplies get tight.’
Mr Kwarteng guaranteed he will keep the energy price cap for consumers in place throughout the winter but said he will not ‘bail out failing energy suppliers’.
Asked if he had approached the Treasury about subsidies for industry, said: ‘No, I haven’t. We’ve already got subsidies in place and it’s very clear that a lot of those are working.’
Labour Treasury spokesman Bridget Phillipson called on the Government to ‘get a grip’. ‘The two key government departments responsible for the current cost of living crisis have spent this morning infighting about whether they were in talks with each other. What a farce,’ she said. ‘If government ministers can’t even tell the truth about each other, then what hope do we have for the challenges facing our country? We need urgent answers on who exactly is running the show.’
Boris Johnson, Carrie and Wilf is taking a sunshine break thousands of miles from the problems engulfing Britain at a £25,000-a-week luxury hideaway – which is owned by one of his ministers.
Spanish media reported that the Prime Minister and his young family are staying at Tory peer Zac Goldsmith’s home in the hills above the Costa del Sol.
Plenty of security officials and police activity have been spotted around the property over the last day, after Boris’ trip was revealed by the Mail and other newspapers yesterday.
Mr Johnson’s foreign holiday – his first since before the pandemic – is likely to be seized on by critics, who will point out that he has left the country in the middle of a fuel crisis and with families facing a predicted ‘winter of discontent’, surging energy prices and stock shortages.
But it is hoped some time in the luxurious Spanish hillside hideaway will give him time to recharge.
And today, residents of the picturesque village of Benahavis said the Prime Minister’s visit had become the talk among locals.
‘Yes for sure your prime minister Boris Johnson is staying up at the house,’ farmer Pedro Benares told MailOnline. ‘I don’t know when he arrived but everyone in the village is talking about it.
‘It is a very big house and very private but they have to drive in and out.’
Spanish media reported that the Prime Minister and his young family are staying at Tory peer Zac Goldsmith’s home in the hills above the Costa del Sol.
Plenty of security officials and police activity have been spotted around the property over the last day, after Boris’ trip was revealed yesterday
Mr Johnson’s holiday there is likely to be seized on by critics, who will point out that he has left the country in the middle of a fuel crisis and with families facing a predicted ‘winter of discontent’, surging energy prices and stock shortages. Pictured: Boris and Carrie last took a family break with Wilfred in Scotland last year
But it is hoped some time in the luxurious hillside hideaway will give him time to recharge. The main house is set on three levels and sleeps 13. It includes a two-bedroom apartment with private access
A Civil Guard patrol car was spotted driving up to an entrance gate at lunchtime today and greeting undercover police parked near the property as they left
The estate, known as Torre Tramores, is a short drive from the picturesque village of Benahavis, and has its own helipad to make sure VIP holidaymakers can arrive and leave without being seen
Who is Zac Goldsmith, minister, life peer and best friend to Carrie?
When Zac Goldsmith lost his Richmond Park constituency in 2017, Carrie Johnson (then-Symonds) tweeted to say she was ‘gutted’ at his defeat.
The pair had forged a close friendship over their support of the environment and animal welfare issues, and she had been seen working to pick up votes in his marginal seat.
But within months of the loss the 46-year-old was back in the fray after being made a Life Peer by Carrie’s husband Boris.
Charged with a ministerial brief for the environment and now safely seated in the House of Lords, Zac Goldsmith looks to be a powerful ally for Carrie Johnson.
Born to billionaire financier Sir James Goldsmith of the famous Goldsmith family and banking dynasty, Goldsmith was educated at Eton before being expelled after drugs were found in his room.
After finishing his education he spent time travelling and doing environmental work in the Himalayas.
Eventually, he returned to London and began working at the Ecologist magazine, which had been set up by his uncle Teddy.
Though being lukewarm towards the Conservatives, he changed his mind and joined the party in 2005.
At a party conference in Blackpool, he told members: ‘A Conservative who is not also in his heart an environmentalist cannot legitimately be described as a Conservative.’
Mr Goldsmith is a committed Brexiteer, inspired partly by his father, who launched the Referendum Party in 1994, with the sole aim of bringing about a referendum on the UK’s European Union membership.
He was selected as an MP candidate by David Cameron, standing for Richmond Park in 2010, a seat which had held by the Liberal Democrats since 1997.
After a fierce battle, he triumphed, winning by 4,091 votes.
In 2015, he kept his seat and increased his majority to 23,000 before resigning as an MP over his opposition to the third Heathrow runway.
In 2016, he lost a by-election in Richmond initiated by his earlier resignation. He had been standing as an Independent.
At the 2017 general election, Mr Goldsmith regained the Richmond Park constituency for the Conservatives, before losing it again in 2019.
The estate, known as Torre Tramores, is a short drive from the picturesque village of Benahavis, and has its own helipad to make sure VIP holidaymakers can arrive and leave without being seen.
The main house is set over three levels and can sleep up to 13 people. It also includes a two-bedroom apartment with private access.
There is also a slightly smaller villa that sleeps up to 10 people and includes five en-suite bedrooms which can be rented separately.
Princess Diana is rumoured to have stayed at the exclusive estate, set in over 600 acres of woodland, after her divorce from Prince Charles.
And Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan – then a professional cricketer – was pictured on his 1995 honeymoon at the estate with his now ex-wife Jemima Goldsmith, Zac’s sister.
Mr Johnson has not been pictured at the property, and it is not known if he has left the estate since arriving on Friday with pregnant wife Carrie, 33, and their one-year-old son Wilfred.
A Civil Guard patrol car was spotted driving up to an entrance gate at lunchtime today and greeting undercover police parked near the property as they left.
Four burly men in another unmarked car, thought to be police officers normally based in Madrid, were also seen circling the estate.
News of Boris’ escape to the Spanish sun emerged late on Saturday.
It is his first foreign holiday since the start of the coronavirus pandemic and comes as the UK is in the grips of a fuel crisis with families facing a predicted ‘winter of discontent’ with surging energy prices and food shortages.
His last break was a radically different summer staycation in Scotland which he had to cut short because of security concerns.
He picked a cottage in remote Applecross on the north-west coast in August last year when Carrie was still his fiancée.
Dog Dilyn joined them for the break, which ended amid accusations the PM had pitched a tent in a farmer’s field without permission after they reportedly chose to camp for a few nights of their stay.
Temperatures in Marbella, the famous Costa Del Sol resort a 30-minute drive from the current getaway, were up in the mid-seventies at midday today.
A five-minute drive away in the village of Benahavis, British expats and holidaymakers were enjoying al fresco lunches under a cloudless blue sky.
It was not clear today when Boris and his family will stay in the area until, although they are expected to fly back to Britain on Wednesday.
Torre de Tramores boasts on its website: ‘What sets this exclusive and private getaway apart is the quality and authenticity of its antiques and furnishings, along with the natural splendour and historical atmosphere of its environment.
‘With its understated elegance and rustic charm, the Tramores estate offers the perfect retreat to unwind, meditate and be inspired, or entertain family and friends.’
Guests are invited to ‘find some old-fashioned romance amid rambling vines and sun-kissed stone walls’ in an official estate publicity brochure available online.
The owners describe it as the ‘most enchanting, picturesque and serene private estate in southern Spain.’
Tennis fan Mr Johnson, who went on a health kick after coronavirus nearly killed him last year, could also take advantage of the estate’s court.
Local paper Diario Sur, citing well-placed sources, confirmed today Boris Johnson and his family were staying at the estate, which has also played host to Hugh Grant.
Carrie Johnson is a close friend of Lord Goldsmith (pictured left, with Health Secretary Sajid Javid out campaigning in 2017)
The Prime Minister has flown to Marbella with his pregnant wife Carrie and their 17-month-old son Wilf, who is enjoying his first foreign break
The Prime Minister is travelling with his pregnant wife Carrie and their 17-month-old son Wilf, who is enjoying his first foreign break
The Costa del Sol is popular with prime ministers: Tony Blair and his wife Cherie stayed at a friend’s house in the village of Benahavis, which was visited by Michelle Obama in 2010
Cabinet minister defends PM’s holiday
A Cabinet minister has defended Boris Johnson for going on holiday as the Government battles to stem a cost of living crisis and the fallout from spiralling gas prices.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng insisted it was ‘reasonable’ for the Prime Minister to take a break, after he flew to Marbella to holiday in a private villa on the Costa del Sol.
Mr Kwarteng said he remains in ‘regular WhatsApp contact’ with the Prime Minister, who he noted has recently lost his mother.
Downing Street did not deny reports Mr Johnson had travelled to Spain, but declined to say whether the Prime Minister was instead working at No 10 or in Chequers, as is commonplace.
The Business Secretary told Times Radio: ‘I believe he has gone away. I’m not sure where he’s gone.
‘But what I would say is I am in regular contact with him. He’s also had a year-and-a-half in which he’s almost lost his life to Covid, his mother passed away very sadly two or three weeks ago and he may have decided to take a short break.
‘I think that’s something reasonable.
‘I’m in regular WhatsApp contact with him, I spoke to him only a few days ago. I’m not sure when he’s supposed to have left the country.’
Boris’ trip to the Mediterranean coast comes as Britain faces several crises which have been described as a ‘winter of discontent’.
While the Marbella sunshine hit 75C, back at home there were fears of a winter chill as millions face soaring energy bills.
Energy supplier Ovo’s chief executive Stephen Fitzpatrick told the Andrew Marr show this morning that gas prices has rocketed by 1000 per cent in the last 12 months.
Questioned on the fears Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng was unable to guarantee there would not be interruptions to gas supply this winter but insisted he was ‘as certain as I could be’ it would continue.
The escalating costs mean factories in several industries are warning of an impending shutdown.
Those affected include manufacturers, food producers and a fertiliser giant that produces CO2 to keep food products fresh.
Speaking about Mr Johnson’s holiday, a Westminster source told the Sunday Mirror: ‘It’s fine the PM taking a break, but the timing shows just how out of touch he is with ordinary Brits facing bills, bills and yet more bills.’
However, his allies will argue that his last proper break was on the Caribbean island of Mustique in early January last year – since when he has nearly died from Covid, lost his mother, divorced, become a father, remarried and prepared to welcome another child, all while dealing with the UK’s gravest crisis since the Second World War.
Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former spin doctor, wrote a foul-mouthed tweet about the news this morning, saying: ‘Marbella? How lovely. F*** business. Slash welfare. Take a holiday’.
The former New Labour heavyweight also told LBC this morning: ‘Everybody’s entitled to a break and you want people in public life to be fit and healthy and focused and my problem with him is that it underlines the fact that he isn’t really focused on the job in the way that he should be.
‘I think you’d be hard-pressed to say the country is in a very good state at the moment. Energy crisis, HGV shortage, real shortage, real problems in relation to the Northern Ireland protocol.
‘There’s half a dozen things that the Prime Minister should be gripping.
‘It’s also true, as you know I worked with Tony Blair a long time, you can do an awful lot of work wherever you are, but I feel that Boris Johnson is trolling us the whole time.
‘I don’t think he’s focused on the job in the way that he should be.’
It was reported yesterday that Mr Johnson was ‘utterly exhausted’ by the events of recent months.
The Prime Minister has not had good luck with his holidays, with his summer ‘staycation’ in the West Country curtailed by the Afghanistan crisis after barely a day.
He was spotted scurrying to Taunton train station in August with his shirt tail flapping out of his trousers as Kabul fell under Taliban control.
That came a year after an equally disastrous break to the Scottish Highlands, where he pitched a tent on a windswept shoreline next to a holiday cottage.
The trip was cut short for security reasons after his location was exposed by a national newspaper.
Mr Johnson also came close to ‘catastrophe’ when he was swept out to sea while attempting to paddle-board during the trip, only to be rescued by his security detail, it was claimed.
MailOnline approached Downing Street but a spokesperson declined to comment.