Theresa May shamelessly takes up discredited Leave campaign slogan

Most of my memories of the Leave campaign involve the blatant lies it told. 77 million Turks, we were told, would pretty much be here the day after we voted Remain, according to their literature. And the biggest lie of all was emblazoned on the side of a bus. £350 million a week for the NHS.

It was the thought of more money for our beleaguered NHS that prompted many people to vote Leave, something confirmed by Vote Leave’s director, Dominic Cummings.

Within hours of the referendum result, that pledge was in tatters. Nigel Farage distanced himself from it on the morning of that awful day after the referendum.

So, as her Government disintegrates into chaos and farce over its Brexit plans, and as we realise that there is no way we can get a decent solution to the Irish Border problem and as the Government’s own officials says that if we leave without a deal, we’ll run out of food and medicine in a fortnight, Theresa May has done the dead cat thing with a funding pledge for the NHS.

She says that 20 billion a year will come from a Brexit dividend. That is a Brexit Dividend that you spell “m-a-g-i-c m-o-n-e-y t-r-e-e.” It simply does not exist. The respected Institute for Fiscal Studies said earlier this year:

However the impact of Brexit on the wider economy is likely to have a greater impact than the amount the UK will get back from reduced EU contributions. Brexit represents a fundamental shake-up of the UK’s relationship with our largest trade partner. If, as most economists expect, this reduces economic growth over the medium to long term, it will almost certainly outweigh the reduction in our EU contributions; a reduction in GDP of just 1% translates to a fall in tax revenue of more than £8 billion.

My first instinct on seeing the headlines this morning was to call out the bovine scatology:

During the referendum, the UK Statistics Authority debunked the nonsense £350 million a week for the NHS claim. Now Tom Brake has called on the body to state whether they think a Brexit Dividend is anything other than a figment of the Prime Minister’s imagination:

I am seeking a clear statement from the UKSA to settle, once and for all, the vexed question of whether there is any such thing as a so-called Brexit dividend.

If, as the IFS has done, UKSA makes it clear the Brexit dividend is just a figment of the Brexiters’ hyperactive imaginations, then from the PM down, they will have to stop making these misleading and false claims.

Expert after expert have predicted that Brexit will cost the economy rather than free up loads of cash for public services. That is why the Lib Dems are fighting for a final say on the deal and an Exit from Brexit.

Norman Lamb and Judith Jolly slammed the plans as inadequate. Norman, a former health minister, said:

The proposed increase falls well shot of what the IFS and others say is necessary. It will condemn the NHS and patients to a very uncertain and dangerous future. It means that we won’t achieve the vital goal of equality for those with mental ill health and we will continue to fall short of international comparisons on cancer survival rates. It’s an inadequate sticking plaster.

The IFS said that increases of close to 4% are needed for social care as well as a funding boost for the NHS. Yet Theresa May had nothing to say on this vital issue. She has left a gaping wound.

The Liberal Democrats are the only party putting forward an immediate 1p increase in income tax – which would raise an additional £6bn a year. But crucially, the expert panel I set up recommended a dedicated NHS and Care Tax which could be used to raise the amount that experts say the NHS and social care need. That is what the Government should have done.

Liberal Democrat Health Spokesperson Judith Jolly added:

This proposed investment in the NHS is far more about repairing the Tory image than it is about repairing the NHS.

But given the untold damage that Brexit will cause the UK economy, these plans don’t add up. The OBR and the Bank of England have already warned that any Brexit dividend will be dwarfed by the economic disaster that is Brexit.

So from which money tree will Theresa May fund these plans? The truth cannot be sidestepped. She must be upfront with the public.

Theresa May is weaponising the NHS to distract from her dreadful management of Brexit. She can’t be allowed to get away with it.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings