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Johnson, we can only fix UK if we stop fixating about Brexit

by Hugo Dixon | 27.07.2019

Boris Johnson waxed lyrical about turbocharging regions, a fast trans-Pennine railway and money for deprived communities in his first major speech as prime minister. But he can’t pay for it. If Boris Johnson manages to crash us out of the EU without a deal, the public finances will be knocked by £90 billion a year, according to the previous government’s own analysis.

Turn that on its head. If we stay in the EU, the government will have £90 billion a year extra to spend – compared to what it will have if we adopt the prime minister’s “do or die” course of action.

Johnson is right. Large swathes of the country desperately need a jump-start. They have been left behind, often for decades.

But his promise of a one-off £3.6 billion for 100 towns is piddling. We need sustained investment of several times that amount – year in, year out.

That’s what will allow deprived parts of the country to escape the cycle of decline. That’s what will allow them to attract talent and stop the brain drain. That’s what will let them enjoy a cultural renaissance. That’s what will attract private investment.

We could afford a multi-billion pound a year Jumpstart Fund if we stay in the EU, as CommonGround argued in a report backed by civil society and MPs from across the political spectrum last December. But if we crash out, Johnson will struggle to find the cash.

The same goes for his trans-Pennine railway linking Leeds and Manchester. That’s a good idea, albeit an old one that the Tories have been promising for years. But what about Liverpool and Newcastle? What about Hull, Birkenhead, Wolverhampton and Bradford? We need better transport links all over the place. And if we’re struggling to pay our bills, we’re not even going to be able to fund the trans-Pennine link.

Ditto for Johnson’s other promises. Yes, let’s have safer streets. Let’s defeat the gangs and the knife crime. Let’s employ 20,000 police officers to do the job. But where’s the cash?

And, sure, it would be wonderful to have broadband connectivity everywhere. What a fabulous thing to promise. But it’s terribly easy to make an upbeat speech; not so easy to deliver the goods when you’re also trying to take the economy over the cliff into the abyss.

It’s not just that the government won’t have any money. It won’t be able to focus on anything positive if it crashes out of the EU without a deal. Politicians will spend years fighting over who was to blame and desperately trying to  dealing with the damage. The idea that they’re going to have the time to devolve power to local communities – another of Johnson’s promises – is for the birds.

The prime minister is so right – and so wrong – at the same time. Yes, we need to invest in infrastructure and public services. Yes, we need to empower communities. But, no, crashing out of the EU is not the way to do that. We’ll only be able to fix our problems if we stop fixating about Brexit.

8 Responses to “Johnson, we can only fix UK if we stop fixating about Brexit”

  • None of his dreams is do-able within ten years. And it takes at least three years to train a policeman – I know because my ex-son in law was one. And then it takes even longer to acquire the experience to be a GOOD copper (which he wasn’t). Fantasy is all very well but the PM cannot afford such daydreams in the real world – which has very sharp teeth.

  • Could all the remain campaigns get together now, raise some serious money – £10m plus – and do everything possible to stop Johnson taking us over the cliff. Surely even the Queen should be expected to stop this megalomaniac? Drop all the circumspect ifs and buts, force Corbyn to face up to the massive responsibility everyone in Parliament who has not corruptly signed up to the man’s agenda to do their public duty and stop talking about the good of the Tory party or any party for that matter. It is our country, they are our representatives and we must force them to face up to what they should do not as a collective but personally. Anyone pushing to leave come hell or high water should be targeted with massive resources in their constituency. That is what real democracy should stand for.

  • Philip Hammond knows the money is not there and resigned. He appreciates the fact that no deal would kill the country economically. Johnson would call this defeatism but, in truth, the reality is the scenario that Hugo has spelt out. The U.K. economy will have less money even if it leaves with some sort of a deal, let alone a no deal.
    Johnson will get a rude awakening when (if) he visits Berlin, Paris and Dublin. The EU will not shift and, therefore, it is up to Parliament to stop a no deal exit. Corbyn has made some encouraging noises this morning about a second referendum. The remain groups/parties need to come together NOW and make sure it happens. For me, it is preferable to a GE which would give Johnson the chance to make more false promises to get votes.

  • Johnson gets profiled as a bespoke liar and there is nothing secret about it. Consequently, if people vote him in place they apparently like the lies. Tough when in a few years time the lies backfire and the dream crashes. Dr. Feelgood by then lives in a sunnier part of the world, no doubt.

  • Johnson’s problem is that, both professionally and privately, he is a proven serial liar and a fraud. Nothing he says can be believed.

  • The key to this is Labour, as the latest opinion poll shows, they would beat the Cons. were they to elect a new leader. I may be a typical of many Remain voters, in the sense, that as things stand, I could only vote for a party with an unambiguous Remain agenda. I am not instinctively a Labour supporter, but, if they had the balls to offload Corbyn, and choose a new leadership, I would probably support them as having the best and most realistic chance of defeating Johnson & Co.

  • Of course, Bojo has implicitly promised all £350 million a week of the UK EU money to the NHS. Government also promised to fund UK resaearch until 2022 to cover lost EU funding, ditto the farmers. I hope somebody is keeping a spreadsheet of all these “promises” and their costs to be added to the £39 billion (plus) that we owe the EU and the money wasted preparing for a “no deal” exit that Brexiters assured us (and continue to) won’t happen. Wasn’t a deal with the EU going to be “the easiest in human history”? Don’t we hold all the cards? Wasn’t the Charaltan at No 10 “pro cake and pro eating it”?

    How has our nation sunk so low?