PM must not betray voters over post-Brexit NHS funding promise

  • If 'Brexit means Brexit' then the flagship pledge of £350m to the NHS must be realised.

  • Chuka Umunna MP

This evening I will be leading a debate in the House of Commons on the funding of the NHS following our withdrawal from the European Union. Thousands of people are calling on the Government to show us the money that cabinet ministers promised would be spent on the National Health Service. It may feel a long time ago now – a great deal has happened in the interim – but it is less than seven months since five members of the current Cabinet were touring the country promising one of the biggest injections of cash into the NHS in its history.

I am referring, of course, to those ministers who were part of the Vote Leave campaign during the EU referendum. Boris Johnson, Liam Fox, Priti Patel, Andrea Leadsom and Chris Grayling travelled the country in a bright red bus with a firm promise down the side: “We send the EU £350 million a week. Let’s fund our NHS instead.”

Every single one of those people made that pledge to the British people. Every single one of them is now in Government. They possess the power to fight for this to be Government policy. Yet since the referendum result, not a word has been heard on the subject.

To point this out is not to be a “remoaner” or an “enemy of the people.” It is simply to demand that politicians be held to account for the promises they make to the people, and at least offer an explanation and an apology when they fail to keep them. The Prime Minister and her colleagues are overly fond of saying that “Brexit means Brexit.” I agree – the will of the people must be obeyed. But if that phrase means anything, it must mean that the single most high profile pledge of the Leave campaign should be delivered. No Government minister has offered a reason why Brexit should mean an exit from the EU but not the large injection of cash into the NHS that we were promised would come with it.

This is not just a political point. Think what we could do if that money – which amounts to a staggering £18.2 billion a year – were indeed spent on the NHS. Hospitals currently threatened with closure could be saved. The dire state of NHS mental health services could be turned around. The Government could keep Vote Leave’s explicit promise to increase junior doctors’ pay, thereby ending the ongoing industrial dispute. It’s not like the NHS is well-served for funding at the moment – the Health Affairs Select Committee has shown promises the Government had already made about extra funding to be completely false.

Those who voted Leave and Remain might not agree on everything but both sides can agree the NHS needs more money. So keeping Vote Leave’s promise is exactly the right thing to do. On November 23rd, the Government will have its first opportunity since the referendum to outline its public spending plans. I, along with over 40 other MPs from Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, believe they should take this opportunity to commit to spending that money, over and above what is currently promised, on our NHS.  Many voted to leave on the basis this would happen – they will feel mightily betrayed by Mrs May and her Government if it does not come to pass.