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Where is Boris? UK PM on furlough as economic crisis deepens

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves after attending the funeral of the late David Trimble at Harmony Hill Presbyterian Church in Lisburn, south-west Belfast in Northern Ireland, August 1, 2022. AFP

Boris Johnson has been on a belated honeymoon with his wife Carrie since Wednesday, according to Downing Street.

Aides said he was still remaining at the helm, rather than temporarily handing over Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab, but declined to confirm the destination of the honeymoon.

The UK Embassy in Ljubljana has confirmed that Johnson is on a private visit to Slovenia.

Johnson will have a lot more free time after Sept. 6, when he is due to step down as Conservative leader Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak, but has decided to take an early break.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Nadhim Zahawi is also on vacation this week, and the opposition Labor Party has accused the two most senior government officials of being “missing”.

“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 exchanged WhatsApp messages with Johnson and Zahawi “all the time”, and insisted that criticism that the government was doing nothing about the economic crisis was “wrong”.

Zahawi said he stayed in touch with Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey on Thursday after the central bank raised interest rates from 1.25% to 1.75%, the biggest rise in 27 years.

The bank is trying to rein in soaring inflation, which it says could peak at 13.3%, as it forecasts the UK economy will enter a recession in the fourth quarter and last until the end of 2023.

“For me, like I’m sure many others, there’s no vacation without working. I’ve never had that in the private sector, not in government,” Zahawi said in a statement.

“Magic Solutions”

Foreign Secretary Truss and Sunak, Zahawi’s predecessor as chancellor, clashed again over how to resolve the crisis in a televised debate on Thursday evening.

“The reality is that we are facing a recession if we continue with our usual policies,” Truss, who leads the Conservative membership surveys, told reporters on Friday.

It includes an emergency budget to cut taxes immediately to tackle the cost of living crisis and review the independent inflation-fighting mandate of the Bank of England.

But Sunak said tax cuts funded by more borrowing would force the bank to raise interest rates even further, stressing the need to maintain fiscal discipline and tame price pressures first.

Former cabinet minister Liam Fox, who backs Sunak, has warned against “magic bullets” via debt-funded tax cuts as proposed by Truss.

The two candidates were due later Friday to stage another husting event in front of Conservative members, who have until September 2 to vote.

During Thursday’s debate on Sky News, Truss was forced to back down after the moderator highlighted her shifting positions over the years, including a major policy reversal this week on public sector worker pay.

But Sunak was also left embarrassed after a video emerged showing him telling grassroots Tories in wealthy Kent last week that as chancellor he had embezzled government funds from “deprived urban areas”.

His campaign said that in the video, obtained by New Statesman magazine on Friday, Sunak simply stressed the need to move government aid to other cities and rural areas.

But Labor MP Lisa Nandy said: “This leadership race shows the Tories’ true colors.

“It’s outrageous that Rishi Sunak is openly bragging about setting the rules for funneling taxpayers’ money to prosperous conservative counties.”

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