May isn’t off the hook for £350m per week NHS promise

by Hugo Dixon | 08.11.2017

The prime minister didn’t herself promise to give £350 million a week to the NHS. But that doesn’t mean she can wash her hands of the whole sorry business. The deceitful promise is a cancer at the heart of Theresa May’s government. She hasn’t said it was based on a lie – and she has given jobs to the culprits, led by Boris Johnson. That makes her culpable too.

Simon Stevens, head of the NHS in England, said today that failure to provide the cash would undermine “trust in democratic politics”.

But what is May to do? She can’t give £350 million a week to the NHS because we don’t even send that amount to the EU in the first place. What’s more, Brexit is harming our public finances even before we’ve left. Just one example: the referendum-induced plunge in the pound has pushed up inflation and, as a result, increased the interest the government has to pay on its debt. The cost of that alone is £8.9 billion.

Investment is grinding to a halt. We have moved from the fastest to the slowest growing economy in the Group of Seven large industrialised nations. If we actually quit the EU and rupture our relationship with a market responsible for half our trade, taxes will fall. The Office for Budget Responsibility calculates that Brexit will damage the public finances by £292 million a week by 2020. Once you take this into account, the government will have £164 million a week less to spend.

So the prime minister is pinned between a promise made by her foreign secretary and the impossibility of delivering it. Faced with such a dilemma, the correct thing to do is to be honest with the people.

May should say clearly: “There never was £350 million and there isn’t going to be £350 million.” She should also tell Johnson to apologise to the public for saying otherwise.

Our prime minister may be a vicar’s daughter, but sadly there’s little chance of her having the courage to do anything of the sort. And that means trust in politicians will keep plunging.

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    Edited by Luke Lythgoe

    One Response to “May isn’t off the hook for £350m per week NHS promise”

    • May I suggest that you draw a new “Boris bus” being pulled to the scrap yard, with a new caption on the side of it:
      “We just saved this bus from rolling over the Brexit cliff”.
      Alongside the bus (with broken wheels), the redundant bus driver is whistling to Boris with “Hey mate, where’s our magic GBP350 m rebate? You weren’t very good at maths were you!”
      Further separate caption, not on the bus says:
      “New owner sought – needs to to be honest and sensible – most Conservative politicians should not apply”