Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Big lies and bigger lies

There has been widespread coverage today of the release by the UK Treasury of its estimate of the amount of money “sent to Brussels” each week (£156 million), and the comparison between that and the headline figure on the side of that infamous bus, which was £350 million.  The i newspaper has an opinion piece by John Redwood in which he makes a number of points in response.  He glosses over the figure by saying that everyone was aware “that a large sum of money was at stake”, and that “the two sides disagreed about just how large a sum it was”.  Well, yes, they did indeed disagree about the sum involved, but I’m not at all sure that the fact that the £350 million was an outright and blatant can be glossed over by calling it ‘a disagreement about the figure’.

Anyway, he (like others) makes the point that the real issue was that “taking back control of our money”, and “being able to spend our money on our own priorities” were key issues for the Leave campaign.  And in a related story the Director of Get Britain Out makes the rather fluffy point that even £150million per week “is clearly still at too much” without advancing much by way of argument to explain why, or how much exactly would have been acceptable.  The problem with all of this is that the assumption is being generally made that, after Brexit, the UK will be free to spend this money – whatever the actual figure – on things like the NHS and social care.  Put in simplistic terms – give the money to Brussels, or spend it on the NHS – the attraction to many is obvious. 

It’s not an honest choice, however, unless we first consider what else we lose by not paying that money ‘to Brussels’ – because it isn’t simply some sort of membership fee which simply disappears into the so-called bureaucracy in the UE.  Firstly, the UK will need to replicate all the bodies which we currently share with the other members of the EU on a collective basis; and the cost per head is likely to be higher for unique UK institutions than it is for shared agencies.  Then there are little matters such as payments to farmers, and regional aid, the continuation of which the UK has conspicuously declined to guarantee.  Rather than 'NHS vs Brussels', a more honest choice would be NHS vs Regional aid and farming subsidies.  Perhaps people would still choose cuts to both of those in preference to EU membership, but at the moment the reality of the choice that they think they've made isn’t even being made clear to them.

And, in reality, that’s no surprise.  People like Redwood and Farage never suddenly developed a deep commitment to paying for the NHS and social care; they merely latched on to an argument that they thought – rightly so as turned out – would persuade people to vote for something which would otherwise be seen to be against their own best interests.  And that’s the real issue about the infamous £350 million for the NHS.  It’s not just that the sum was a complete lie, it’s also that the whole line of argument was a lie.  The choice was never a real one, just a ploy to achieve the aim of Brexit. 


G Horton-Jones said...

Sorry to disillusion you John but that money however much --- to the last sous is to be allocated to NHS ENGLAND

John Dixon said...

The point of the post isn't about how much money there is or about where it goes, it's about its very existence. By the time the extra costs and the impact on GVA and tax take are factored in, basically there is no money available for reallocation to the NHS or anywhere else.