Did the outgoing prime minister keep his promises?



Boris Johnson holding a hammer next to the 'Brexit Done' sign

The central theme of the Conservatives’ 2019 manifesto was “Finish Brexit”.

In his last week in office, Boris Johnson talks about his record in government – ​​highlighting policies on police hiring and broadband.

He became Prime Minister and won a landslide victory in 2019 and made a series of promises to voters. Delivering them has been made more difficult by the Covid pandemic, but how did it succeed?

Commitment: 20,000 more cops

The Conservatives have promised this for England and Wales by March 2023.

Final figures through June 30, 2022 show an additional 13,790 police officers have been recruited. That means the government is two-thirds of the way with one year left.

Graph showing the number of police officers in England and Wales

Graph showing the number of police officers in England and Wales

But that increase still hasn’t made up for the 20,545 police numbers that fell between March 2010 and March 2019 under Conservative-led governments.

Commitment: 50,000 more nurses and 6,000 more GPs

The Conservatives have promised this for the UK by March 2025.

Latest figures show 319,846 full-time equivalent NHS nurses and health visitors in May 2022. This surpasses 26,247 posts, up 23,753 since December 2019.

Chart showing nurse numbers in the UK

Chart showing nurse numbers in the UK

In GPs, there were 35,257 full-time people on duty in July 2022. This has increased by only 738 since the end of December 2019.

If you exclude locums (doctors temporarily filling the route vacancy) and interns, GP numbers have decreased by 314 since December 2019.

In November 2021, then Health Minister Sajid Javid said: “I will not pretend we are on the road when we are not.”

Pledge: Build 40 new hospitals

This 2019 commitment was to be met “within the next 10 years”.

In August 2021, the government made several definitions for what it said was creating a “new” hospital:

  • A completely new hospital on a new site or existing NHS land

  • A large new clinic building at an existing site or a new wing of an existing hospital

  • Major renovation and alteration of all but the building frame or main structure

Analysis by BBC Reality Check in December 2021 drew the following conclusion from the 40 hospital projects announced by the government:

  • 22 rebuilding projects

  • 12 were new wings in existing hospitals

  • three involve the rebuilding of non-urgent care hospitals

  • three were completely new hospitals

Boris Johnson and Sajid Javid visit the site of the new Children's hospital in Leeds General Infirmary in October 2021

Boris Johnson and Sajid Javid visit the site of the new Children’s hospital in Leeds General Infirmary in October 2021

When asked for an update, on June 7, 2022, a Ministry of Health spokesperson told us that one of 40 hospitals “opened for patients in the last year and six more are under construction.”

Pledge: 300,000 homes per year

This manifesto promise was to be met by the “mid-2020s”.

While there were 242,700 net additional homes in 2019-20, it fell to 216,490 in 2020-21.

Net additional residences include condominiums converted to flats, commercial buildings converted to residential use, and new construction. It is also a factor in destroyed houses.

Chart showing net additional homes built each year

Chart showing net additional homes built each year

Asked what that commitment was on June 9, 2022, the prime minister said, “I cannot give you a cast-iron guarantee that we will reach one number in a given year.”

Commitment: Make Brexit happen

This was truly achieved when the UK left the EU on 31 January 2020.

The UK left the EU’s single market and customs union 11 months after it agreed to a fundamental free trade agreement with the EU.

But if that election slogan implied that Brexit would be done and dusted, it clearly didn’t happen. A large amount remains unresolved, from Northern Ireland to financial services.

Numerous trade agreements have been signed around the world (many of which will replace agreements the UK has as an EU member), but no agreement with the US.

The Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR), which makes economic decisions for the government, estimates that leaving the EU would reduce Britain’s imports and exports by around 15% in the long run and would hit productivity by around 4%.

Supporters of Brexit say sovereignty has been restored and unwanted regulations can now be cut.

Pledge: Australian-style points-based immigration system

This was not possible when the UK was in the EU due to rules that gave citizens the freedom to live and work in all EU countries.

After Brexit, the government started this system. EU citizens wishing to live and work in the UK now have to apply for a visa through a points-based system (PBS), the same as citizens from the rest of the world.

Chart showing the points-based system

Chart showing the points-based system

The process has not been all straight sailing. Leaving the EU single market is one of the contributing factors to the truck driver shortage, as EU drivers can no longer come and go as they please. The government had to issue 5,000 temporary visas for this sector.

Pledge: No increase in income tax, National Insurance or VAT rates

This manifesto commitment has been broken.

In September 2021, the government announced that workers, self-employed and employers will pay 1.25p more National Insurance (NI) in pounds sterling from April 2022.

However, due to cost-of-living pressures, the government later mitigated this by announcing that from 6 July 2022, the point at which employees will begin to pay NI will rise to £12,570.

This means anyone earning less than £34,000 in 12 months from April 2022 will pay less NI than last year. Anyone who earns more than that will pay more.

Chart showing how much or how much NI employees will pay

Chart showing how much or how much NI employees will pay

Commitment: Fix the crisis in social care

The government says the money from the NI increase will initially go to relieve pressure on the NHS.

A rate will then be moved to the social care system, which Mr Johnson promised to “fix” in 2019.

In 2021, the government announced a plan to limit the costs people in the UK pay for social care. From October 2023 this will be set at a maximum of £86,000 for lifetime maintenance.

But the long-awaited financing reform is not solving other problems, such as the shortage of care workers. Research in May 2022 estimates that 500,000 adults in the UK expect social care, up from 294,000 a year ago.

Pledge: Protect the triple lock

A triple lock means that the state pension increases each year, whichever of the following is the highest:

The 2019 Conservative manifesto said it would remain for the duration of this Parliament.

But that promise was broken on September 7, 2021, when the government announced it was suspending the triple lock for one year, blaming the pandemic.

The government says it will return in April 2023.

Commitment: Spending 0.7% of GNI on international aid

This manifesto commitment was also broken.

The UK’s annual aid budget has been cut to 0.5% of GNP (gross national income) – a cut of around £4bn.

Bar chart showing ODA since 2013

Bar chart showing ODA since 2013

Once again, the government blamed the epidemic – saying cutting aid spending would help fix public finances.

He said the 2015 legislation, which set the 0.7% target, referred to “financial conditions” that governments could refer to if they were unable to meet it.

Commitment: Full fiber broadband to every UK home by 2025

This 2019 manifesto commitment was scaled down the following year.

In a policy document issued by HM Treasury in November 2020, the target was changed to “minimum 85% gigabit capacity coverage by 2025”.

Still, significant progress has been made. According to government figures, Gigabit coverage has increased from 10% to 70% since July 2019.


Alongside the commitments, Boris Johnson has made claims about his government’s track record during the pandemic.

Claim: Fastest vaccine delivery in Europe

The UK became the first country to approve a Covid vaccine on 2 December 2020. The vaccine rollout began on 8 December 2020, weeks before the EU.

The UK immunization schedule was the fastest in the EU until May 2021.

After that, if you look at doses per 100 people in a country’s population, other EU countries have caught up.

Claim: Fastest growth in G7

The Prime Minister has repeatedly mentioned that Britain has the fastest growing economy in the G7, a club of large, advanced economies.

Whether or not this is true depends on what period you’re looking at.

  • For the whole of 2020, the UK economy contracted by 9.3%, the largest decline in GDP in the G7.

  • For the whole of 2021, it grew 7.4%, the largest growth in the G7.

  • The IMF predicts that in 2022 the UK will have a growth of 3.7%, the second highest partner in the G7 (behind Canada).

  • The OECD predicts that the UK will have zero growth in 2023 and will be the slowest growing economy in the G7.

  • If you look at growth since pre-pandemic, the UK ranks third in the G7 with 0.7% growth.

Update: This piece was originally published on October 4, 2021 and has since been updated several times to add commits and update figures.

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