Maybe it’s slipped the Chancellor’s mind. He must have a lot to think about right about now. The long-term downward trend predictions for the British economy; the volatile dip in jobs and investment seen in July; the seven week low in the value of sterling as he speaks. Not an easy in-tray. But, in case he has forgotten, a few months ago some bold spending promises were made. The British people were promised £350 million extra per week for our NHS if they voted to leave the EU.
The Leave campaign – many of whom are now at the top table of government – spent weeks riding around in a big red German bus emblazoned with, “We send the EU £350m a week – let’s fund our NHS instead”. Polling says the message got home. It was one of the key reasons swing voters opted for Leave over Remain on June 23rd. Brexit campaigners went out of their way to sew seeds of fear for our health service if we stayed in Europe – stating the investment as a key plank of post-EU Britain.
Philip Hammond opened his first Conservative conference speech citing Liam Byrne’s ‘no money left’ memo, and noted that he hadn’t been left any such memo by his predecessor. Maybe with all the Brexit upheaval and re-organisation of Whitehall, the memo about owing the British people £350m a week for the NHS got lost. In truth, had Boris and his gang been paying up since the Leave vote, the NHS would’ve received £4.9bn by now. It’ll hit the five billion mark before Theresa May gets up to deliver her ‘Brexit means Brexit’ speech on Wednesday. (If you want to keep a track, there’s the rather helpful www.whatdoesborisowe.co.uk FYI.)
Instead of the promised cash, the chancellor offered up a series of reassuring soundbites about strength and history. His one EU admission was an offer to protect multi-year funding promises made by the EU after we leave. This spoke volumes about what so many know: businesses, education outlets, research centres, charities, civil society groups and so many more are reliant or partly reliant on the financial infrastructure Europe provided.
The assurance to protect EU funding for now is welcome, not least to the thousands whose livelihoods are reliant on it. This giveaway shows the chancellor realises what a disaster it will be to lose that investment down the line. But there were no promises for these organisations or their employees in the long-term – just a short-term fix but the fundamental and structural holes that exiting the EU will leave for many groups.
That’s why Leave and Remain supporters alike shouldn’t let Philip Hammond forget. Brexit was put forward on a promise of more funding for our NHS, and protections for our industries. Brexit wasn’t a blank cheque for a handful of government bosses to interpret on behalf of the 33 million Brits who voted in the referendum. We deserve to get the deal they promised. And if they don’t meet their promises, we deserve our say on that deal.