Boris Johnson has vowed to defeat Covid and build a better country over the next decade in his leader’s speech to the virtual Conservative conference.

Evoking the UK’s recovery from World War Two, he said he wanted to build a “new Jerusalem”, with opportunity for all, improved housing and healthcare.

He warned the UK could not return to normal after the pandemic, which would be a “catalyst” for major change.

And he rejected suggestions he had “lost his mojo” as “drivel”.

In his speech, delivered without the usual conference audience, he said he wanted to see the back of coronavirus and the “erosion of liberties” it had led to and to see the country flourishing again.

He said: “Even in the darkest moments we can see the bright future ahead. And we can see how to build it and we will build it together.”

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The PM praised the UK’s fight against the virus, saying he had had “more than enough” of the disease – which he insisted would be overcome by “collective effort”.

He insisted the pandemic could not be allowed to “hold us back or slow us down” and the country that emerged from the crisis would be very different from the one that preceded it.

“It is not enough to go back to normal. We have lost too much. We have mourned too many…We will not content ourselves with a repair job.”

He pledged to make the UK a world-leader in green energy by 2030, to end the “injustice” in the provision of social care and to expand one-to-one catch-up teaching to pupils left behind during the pandemic but also those of “exceptional” ability – saying this could have a “transformative” effect on young people’s life chances.

The BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said the prime minister delivered a core political message that the misery surrounding coronavirus made him “more, not less determined, to drive through change he promised at the election”.

‘To do better’

Pledging to rebuild the dream of home ownership for the young, he vowed to help get more 20 to 30-year-olds on the housing ladder by offering fixed-rate mortgages available to those with just 5% deposits.

He added: “In the depths of the Second World War, in 1942 when just about everything had gone wrong, the government sketched out a vision of the post-war new Jerusalem that they wanted to build.

“And that is what we are doing now – in the teeth of this pandemic.

“We are resolving not to go back to 2019, but to do better: to reform our system of government, to renew our infrastructure; to spread opportunity more widely and fairly and to create the conditions for a dynamic recovery that is led not by the state but by free enterprise.”

Mr Johnson also addressed those who have criticised his leadership during the pandemic, saying it was wrong to suggest he has not fully recovered from his battle with the disease, which saw him hospitalised for a week.

“I have read a lot of nonsense recently, about how my own bout of Covid has somehow robbed me of my mojo.

“And of course this is self-evident drivel, the kind of seditious propaganda that you would expect from people who don’t want this government to succeed, who wanted to stop us delivering Brexit and all our other manifesto pledges.”

He attacked Labour’s response during the crisis, labelling its leader Sir Keir Starmer as “Captain Hindsight”, and suggesting the opposition saw the crisis as an opportunity to make the huge extension of the reach of the state a permanent feature of British life.

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