NHS Brexit bonanza fails to convince
Boris Johnson and Michael Gove have been hitting the Brexit campaign trail to claim that quitting the EU would free up the £350m a week they say we spend on the EU to give instead to the NHS.
It’s hard to know which end of this one to doubt first. The BBC’s fact checkers were quick to cast doubt on the £350m figure on World At One, pointing out it didn’t include the UK’s rebate, the funding that comes straight back to the UK for regional development, or the potential contributions a post-Brexit UK might have to make the EU budget anyway as part of a trade deal – as Norway and Switzerland do.
They’re likely to end up with a vastly smaller chunk of that to set aside for an NHS which in England already costs £2.25bn a week.
But more worryingly there’s a bigger risk that any savings would be dwarfed by the hit our economy would take in leaving the EU.
Estimates of the impact of Brexit on economic growth vary hugely, but just over half of the UK’s trade is with EU member states. We’d need to renegotiate agreements with them as quickly and on as good terms as we could get. At the very best, the UK economy would have a period of “troubled transition” – something borne out when 75 of 100 economists quizzed by the Financial Times predicted an adverse impact on the UK’s medium term economic prospects.
With the NHS finances already in a perilous condition, a tax-funded health service like ours would be hugely affected by any economic shocks that reduced tax revenues, even in the short term. It’s already being pushed right to breaking point. Could the NHS cope with another significant reduction of revenue over a five year period, given the demographic and cost pressures it currently faces?
But possibly hardest to believe is that even supposing they do manage to conjure up a saving on this, would a team composed of the Tory right, the Taxpayers Alliance and UKIP really have investment in public services at the top of their spending list?
The track record of the Conservative leadership has been the imposition of an unprecedented financial squeeze on the NHS, now set to run for a decade. Michael Gove even argued (in his co-authored 2005 publication Direct Democracy: an agenda for a new model party) that he didn’t think extra money would actually help the NHS, and it just needs more restructuring.
Johnson and Gove have had chance upon chance to spend more on the NHS. In the latest budget, as well as a continuation of the health funding squeeze, the Conservatives opted for tax cuts for the wealthy. It’s spin. Leading Brexiteers are some of the same people who’ve been pushing our NHS into privatisation and funding crisis. Even if their economics worked, I can’t see them choosing to help it out.