Brexit and the NHS

June 27, 2018 Opinion , OPINION/NEWS , POLITICS , UK

Reuters photo



Tom Arms



Britain’s National Health Service is the country’s sacred cow. America flew to the moon. Britain led the world in providing a cradle-to-grave free health service.


The NHS is a symbol of immense national pride and any politician who dares to tinker with it does so at their own peril. Conversely, any politician who builds on the enormous reservoir of goodwill it generates benefits at the ballot box.


The Brexiteers knew this. That is why they banged on about how £350 million a week could be diverted into the NHS if the UK withdrew from the European Union. Of course, it was a lie. Theresa May as much as said so in March 2017. But that didn’t matter back in June 2016. The public wanted to hear that money could be found for their beloved NHS and voted accordingly.


The NHS certainly needed the money. Conservative austerity had hit hard at doctors and nurses salaries, staffing levels, efficiency, equipment and waiting times for operations and in the accident and emergency wards. In two successive winters the health service has been brought to the edge of breaking point by a lethal combination of cold weather, an ageing population and lack of cash.


The Tories, said Jeremy Corbyn in the 2016 general election, could no longer be trusted with the stewardship of the sacred NHS. So successful was the Labour leader in exploiting the sanctity of the NHS that the voters ignored his far-left agenda and hypocritical stand on the over-arching issue of Brexit and—against all the odds—denied Mrs May a majority and nearly put Mr Corbyn in Downing Street.


The Prime Minister learned her lesson. This past week was the 70th birthday of the NHS and she celebrated it by giving the British health service an annual real term spending rise of 3.4 percent for the next six years. That means another £20.5 billion a year by the end of the period – £44 million more a week than the amount promised by Brexiteers. In doing so, the prime minister has cut the ground out from under Mr Corbyn and effectively stolen his clothes.


Mrs May’s generous present came at the beginning of a good week for Mrs May. As the end approached she faced another crunch vote on an amendment to the EU withdrawal Bill. It was a re-hash of the previous week’s amendment to a parliamentary vote on the future of Brexit if the government fails to negotiate a deal with the EU by January 2019.


Last week she narrowly avoided defeat by promising Tory remainer rebels a “meaningful vote” if the government is faced with a no deal scenario. She won the vote and then told the Brexiteers the opposite. The remainers were furious and there was a possibility of a serious rebellion when the House of Lords sent a slightly modified version of the amendment back to the Commons during the week.


The rebellion, however, fizzled out. The threat of an election and party loyalty trumped the national interest as all but a handful of the rebels were whipped into line behind the prime minister.


There may, however, have been a hint of a chink in the Brexit armour. According to legislation which has now received the Royal Assent, a government minister will make a statement to the House of Commons setting out the next steps if 21 January 2019 passes without a deal being struck. MPs will then vote on this statement. According to the government, this vote should be on “neutral terms”—a new political term which no one has yet properly defined.


The procedural definition is being left to John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons. If he rules that the Commons can vote on the final Brexit deal then so be it. Speaker Bercow reeks of political neutrality. He campaigned for his parliamentary seat as a far-right conservative. Then after being elected he swung the other way and was said to be on the verge of switching to the Labour Party when he was elected Speaker in 2009.


The Brexiteers don’t trust him. In fact, he is intensely disliked in conservative party ranks. The far-right Brexiteering tabloids the Daily Mail and Daily Express started running a vicious anti-Bercow campaign even before the Queen signed the EU Withdrawal Bill into law.


But back to the NHS, Mrs May claimed that half of her birthday present was being financed from the Brexit dividend which 15 months ago she said was a fiction. Her Chancellor of the Exchequer, Phillip Hammond, agrees that any talk of a Brexit dividend is strictly fictional, but stops short of calling his boss a liar. He told the annual Mansion House dinner recently that the money is coming from increased taxes, increased borrowing and cuts in defence, social services, educatio. British conservatives have assumed the mantle of the protectors of the NHS and relinquished their traditional role of the low tax party. British politics continue to confuse.





Tom Arms

I am a journalist, entrepreneur and historian with extensive experience in print, web and broadcast journalism. I started as a diplomatic correspondent, wrote several books (The Falklands Crisis, World Elections On File and the Encyclopedia of the Cold War), and then in 1987 started my own business (Future Events News Service, which over 25 years established itself as the world and UK media’s diary. Our strapline was: “We set the world’s news agenda.” I sold FENS in December 2012 but retained the exclusive broadcast rights to all of FENS data. To exploit these rights I set up LookAhead TV which produces unique programmes which “Broadcasts Tomorrow Today” so that viewers can “Plan to Participate.” LookAhead has appeared regularly on Vox Africa, Radio Tatras International, The Conversation and Voice of Africa Radio.

In addition to being a syndicated broadcaster and columnist on global affairs, Tom is also available for speaking engagements and can be contacted on TwitterLinkedin and email[email protected].

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