One of the Leave camp’s most popular pledges during the referendum was to axe contributions to Brussels. Now David Davis, the Brexit secretary, has admitted we may keep paying to secure market access.
The promise was splattered on Boris Johnson’s battle bus, which read: “We send the EU £350 million a week. Let’s fund our NHS instead”. Not only was it a lie that we send Brussels £350 million a week. Because Brexit will damage our public finances, there will actually be less money to spend not more. Last week, the Office of Budget Responsibility predicted that it would cause borrowing to rise by £226 million a week.
But it’s even worse than that. The government is letting it be known that we may need to keep paying money to the EU in return for market access.
In response to a question in parliament today about whether the UK would consider making contributions, Davis said: “The major criterion here is that we get the best possible access for goods and services to the European market. And if that’s included in what [the questioner is] talking about, then of course we’d consider it.” (Go to 9:42:52 mark).
If the Brexiters had been honest about future payments into the EU budget, it is doubtful whether so many people would have backed Leave.
Not that this willingness will be sufficient to secure full access, mind you. We will also need to accept two other conditions Brexiters have railed against – free movement and following the EU’s rules.
Johnson may already be wriggling on the first of these. Sky News says he told EU ambassadors over breakfast that he was personally in favour of free movement – though the foreign minister denies he said such a thing.
Be that as it may, Johnson was the first prominent Brexiter to edge out of the promise to nix payments to Brussels – refusing to rule out such contributions in an interview with The Sun in September. Theresa May then omitted to set this as a red line in her otherwise hardline Tory party conference speech.
Continuing to give money to the EU to protect our economy may well be a sensible policy. But if we do so, it will ram home that the Brexiters peddled their wares on the basis of a thoroughly false prospectus. All the more reason for voters to to be given a chance to change their minds when they finally see what Brexit means.