Brexiters back-pedal on NHS and immigration pledges after EU referendum

Could funding for Cornwall, farmers and science be next?


Leave chiefs are walking back their pre-referendum pledges at remarkable speed. On the key policies they used to sell Brexit to the British people, the campaign leaders are back-pedalling like a cyclist who’s run out of cliff edge.

Here are the big reverses we’ve seen already:

  1. Pledge: £350 million a week ‘we give to the EU’ to be spent on the NHS

Vote Leave made this a central part of their campaign, slapping it on their battle bus and using it in their daily emails, films, posters and speeches – despite the figure being erroneous.

Vote Leave NHS £350 million

But when asked if he could guarantee this money – £18 billion a year – would go to the NHS, in an interview on the morning of the result, Nigel Farage said:

‘No, I can’t.’

He also suggested the promise was a ‘mistake’ made by the official Leave campaign, Vote Leave. (Farage wasn’t part of the official campaign, but received endless media coverage anyway.)

In fact he had given the same impression – that this money would go to the NHS – on several occasions, including on 9 June on BBC Question Time. 

Iain Duncan Smith, who was part of Vote Leave, admitted on Sunday that £350 million a week would not be spent on the NHS, but it would receive the ‘lion’s share’ of money allegedly saved by Brexit.

And in Boris Johnson’s Telegraph column today (for which he is paid over £200,000 a year) he could only say:

‘Yes, there will be a substantial sum of money which we will no longer send to Brussels, but which could be used on priorities such as the NHS.’

Hear that? It’s the sound of a Boris Bike back-pedalling.

2. Pledge: Brexit means less immigration

Probably the main plank of the Leave campaign’s pitch was ‘taking control of our borders’ and reducing immigration.

But when senior Leave pusher Daniel Hannan MEP was asked about this on BBC Newsnight after the vote, he admitted immigration would not necessarily fall as a result of Brexit, and backed ‘free movement of labour’, i.e. workers.

He said:

‘Frankly, if people watching think that they have voted and there is now going to be zero immigration from the EU, they are going to be disappointed.’

‘Disappointed’ is an understatement…

In fact, this confirms what we knew already. More than half of immigration is from outside the EU, and would not change if Britian leaves, while EU immigration would probably not drop by very much either.

But the Leave campaign was very happy to give a different impression.

Again, in Boris Johnson’s column today, he writes:

‘Yes, the government will be able to take back democratic control of immigration policy, with a balanced and humane points-based system to suit the needs of business and industry.’

Nothing about reducing numbers. (Gisela Stuart refused to say whether Brexit would reduce immigration numbers in the final debate, as Left Foot Forward reported.)

Is this what 17 million people voted for?

3. Pledge: Match EU funds for areas like Cornwall, funds for farmers and science, and cuts to VAT on energy bills

Leavers promised to match all EU funds given to British farmers, science research, and deprived areas such as Cornwall, where people fear losing this money (despite voting for Brexit).

A letter signed by Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and others, wrote:

‘It is therefore clear that there is more than enough money to ensure that those who now get funding from the EU – including universities, scientists, family farmers, regional funds, cultural organisations and others – will continue to do so while also ensuring that we save money that can be spent on our priorities.’

They also said leaving the EU would mean the government could cut people’s energy bills by lowering VAT rates.

Nothing has been said on these pledges by Leave chiefs since the vote on Thursday, but expect them to backtrack on these too.

Their silence so far speaks volumes. (Boris Johnson said nothing about these pledges in his column today.)

Breaking these promises is extremely dangerous. Seventeen million people voted for Brexit on Thursday believing some or all of these pledges would be honoured.

When they discover the NHS will not receive an extra £18 billion each year and don’t see declines in immigration, ‘trust in politicians’ could reach an all time low.

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