Monday 21 October 2019

May's claim of a Brexit dividend just 'tosh', says leading Tory MP

Prime Minister Theresa May and her husband Philip arrive for a church service near to her Maidenhead constituency. Photo: Steve Parsons/PA Wire
Prime Minister Theresa May and her husband Philip arrive for a church service near to her Maidenhead constituency. Photo: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

Shaun Connolly

A leading Tory has branded as "tosh" Theresa May's insistence that a "Brexit dividend" would help boost NHS funding by more than €400m a week.

Commons Health Committee chairwoman Sarah Wollaston said she was sad to see Mrs May's government "slide to populist arguments" as people were being "treated like fools".

The sharp intervention came after the British prime minister has said the NHS would receive an additional £20bn a year in real terms funding by 2024, meaning a weekly increase of £384m (€440m) in real terms, and £600m a week in cash terms compared with now.

Ms Wollaston tweeted: "The Brexit dividend tosh was expected but treats the public as fools. Sad to see Govt slide to populist arguments rather than evidence on such an important issue. This will make it harder to have a rational debate about the 'who & how' of funding & sharing this fairly."

Referring to controversial promises made by the Leave campaign during the referendum, Mrs May told the BBC's 'The Andrew Marr Show': "Some people may remember seeing a figure on the side of a bus a while back of £350m a week in cash.

"Well, I can tell you what I am announcing will mean that in 2023-24, there will be about £600m a week in cash, more in cash, going into the NHS."

Mrs May said the money, which would not be used for social care, would amount to an increase of 3.4pc, and said the country would also have to "contribute a bit more" to health service funding.

Asked where the non-"Brexit dividend" element of the funding would come from, Mrs May said: "As a country we will be contributing more, a bit more, but also we will have that sum of money that is available from the European Union."

It is expected that taxes and borrowing will rise to pay for the increase in funding, and resources will be redirected from the more than £9bn a year the UK currently pays into the EU.

The move comes as Mrs May faces another turbulent week in Parliament on the Brexit front with Tory rebels again threatening to defy her over how much influence MPs will have over any withdrawal deal.

Labour's shadow chancellor John McDonnell said: "After eight years of Tory cuts and privatisation, the NHS and social care are in crisis.

"Today's announcement on funding is nowhere near good enough and the prime minister has confirmed there is no new money for social care.

"This falls far short of the 4pc that experts say the NHS needs, it is just a standstill, and the Tories are refusing to say where the money will come from.

"You can't trust the Tories with the NHS."

Director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies Paul Johnson told BBC One's 'Sunday Politics': "There isn't a Brexit dividend. So there isn't a dividend in two senses; first over this period, if you look at the arrangement we've come to with the European Union in terms of paying our exit bill, and you add to that the commitment the government already made to keep funding farmers and so on, there is literally arithmetically no money, and in addition we know, because the Governments accepted this, that the public finances will be worse as a result of the Brexit vote.

"The OBR (Office for Budget Responsibility) has said it could by £15bn a year; it could be a bit more, it could be a bit less. As a pure, sort of arithmetic point of view, over this period, there's no money."

Meanwhile, Tory rebels say they are prepared to "collapse the government" if that is necessary to block the "catastrophic" damage from a botched Brexit.

Leading rebel Dominic Grieve vowed they would not back down in a further Commons showdown this week to secure a "meaningful vote" designed to block a "no-deal" exit. Instead, Mr Grieve accused pro-Brexit hardliners in his own party of seeming to "prefer chaos", rather than reach an agreement to give MPs a voice in the process.

Asked whether he was ready to defeat the government, he replied: "The group is quite determined that the meaningful vote pledge that was given to us has got to be fulfilled - I think that is abundantly clear."

And, asked what might happen if Mrs May's deal was later rejected, Mr Grieve said: "We could collapse the government. And I can assure you, I wake up at 2am in a cold sweat thinking about the problems that we have put on our shoulders."

But the former attorney general vowed not to bow to pressure and risk leaving the EU without an agreement - which he called a demand to "sign up to a slavery clause". It asked that "however potentially catastrophic it might be for my constituents and my country, I'm signing in blood now that I will follow over the edge of the cliff", he warned. "That I can tell you I am not prepared to do," Mr Grieve told the BBC's 'Daily Politics' programme.

Irish Independent

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