Tories deny government has 'gone missing' as Boris Johnson enjoys second holiday abroad

A Conservative peer accused 'captain of the ship' Boris Johnson of going on 'shore leave'. Credit: PA

Cabinet ministers have defended Boris Johnson's decision to go on a second summer holiday amid criticism of the government's lack of action over the cost of living crisis.

The outgoing prime minister was spotted in Greece over the weekend, just weeks after returning from a holiday to Slovenia.

Critics have accused him of being missing in action at a time when rising food prices pushed inflation to another 40-year high, while households are growing increasingly anxious about how they're going to pay rocketing energy bills this autumn.

Asda chairman Lord Rose criticised a “horrifying” absence of fresh support on Wednesday, saying: “The captain of the ship is on shore leave – nobody is in charge at the moment.”

The Conservative peer questioned when an emergency budget will be brought forward as he warned that “inflation isn’t sitting there waiting for us” as workers were hit by the biggest pay slump since records began.

Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi denied the government has "gone missing" at a "time of national emergency".

"I don't agree with that, nor do I recognise that," he told broadcasters on Wednesday. "The moment I walked into the Treasury on July 5, I gathered my top leadership team."

The chancellor said his team are preparing options to ease the cost of living burden on households so the next prime minister can “hit the ground running” when either Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak take the keys to Number 10 in several weeks.

Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi denies the government has gone missing and that his team are 'working day and night'

He added that the Treasury is currently "working day and night" to roll out support for the most vulnerable along with the £400 energy bill discount.

But Labour accused Mr Johnson of having “bailed on the country” as figures from the Office for National Statistics showed the Consumer Prices Index measure of inflation reached 10.1% last month.

The increase in inflation was largely attributed to a spike in food prices and staples including toilet rolls and toothbrushes.

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When Cabinet Minister Kit Malthouse was asked why Mr Johnson had chosen to go to Greece at such a critical time, he told ITV News: "I don't know, you'll have to ask him."

He insisted that the PM is is "being briefed at all times", adding: "The idea that a prime minister ever has a moment off is not right.

"But look, the government is more than just the prime minister.

"There are secretaries of state at their desk, beavering away, making sure that we are planning correctly for the winter and also executing policy we've already put in place, like the £37 billion support package which is flowing out as we speak."

Kit Malthouse told ITV News he doesn't know why the PM has chosen to go away at this time: 'You'll have to ask him'

Criticism of Mr Johnson mounted as No 10 refused to say whether he will spend his last weeks as prime minister living at his grace-and-favour home, Chequers.

He was spotted holidaying with wife Carrie Johnson in Greece after their honeymoon to Slovenia, and his final months in post have also included a Typhoon fighter jet trip and a belated wedding party in the Cotswolds.

Lord Rose, a former chief at Marks & Spencer, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We’ve got to have some action. The captain of the ship is on shore leave – nobody is in charge at the moment.

“Nothing is happening. We’re sitting here now, into the fourth month of the crisis, and we’re still waiting to see what action will be taken – it’s horrifying.”

The peer called for fresh targeted action to help “those who need it most” as he warned the nation is “heading towards a recession”.

Boris and wife Carrie were spotted in a supermarket on their holidays in Greece

Removal vans have been seen taking belongings from Downing Street during the Tory leadership race to replace Mr Johnson ahead of his exit on September 6.

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said: “Boris Johnson has once again left Britain in an inexcusable mess.

“He has abdicated his responsibility and bailed on the country, leaving those vying for his job scrapping it out amongst themselves but deafeningly silent on solutions to the challenges our country faces.

“While the British people face a dire cost-of-living crisis, this zombie Conservative government increasingly resembles a scene from the Night Of The Living Dead.”

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, has demanded a £29 billion package to stop energy bills further soaring this winter, to be paid for in part by an extension of the windfall levy on oil and gas giants’ profits.

But Tory leadership contender Ms Truss rejected the plan, seemingly dismissing it as a “sticking plaster” approach as she pledges tax cuts to boost growth.

Mr Zahawi said there is a “real problem” with the Labour plans, saying their “numbers are out” and they would be “rewarding people like me who are the wealthier end of the spectrum”.

Ms Truss, the Foreign Secretary, and her leadership rival Mr Sunak, a former chancellor, are expected to face questions over the economy during a hustings in Belfast.