By Chuka Umunna MP, Chair of Vote Leave Watch
A plan that calls for more than 30,000 doctors and nurses to be laid off, and an end to free NHS treatment for people needing vital procedures including hysterectomies, orthodontics and tonsillectomies. An attitude that sees the NHS as “unsustainable.” And this plan praised by a senior Conservative cabinet minister who campaigned to leave the European Union in the referendum last year.
It could be fiction, but this is cold hard fact. Vote Leave Watch revealed yesterday that in 2011, a book co-edited by David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, called precisely for this. Co-edited with fellow MPs John Baron and Brian Binley, the book, ‘The Future of Conservatism: Values Revisited’, was published in 2011, and included a chapter by a former Tory candidate setting out this nightmare vision for our NHS.
The title of the book was apt, because these are the real Tory values – NHS cuts, NHS charges, NHS privatisations. Brexiteers spent the referendum campaign last year pretending that Brexit would be the saving of the NHS. But instead, we have a hard Brexit Cabinet, whose members behind closed doors are opposed to the core values and purpose of the NHS.
During the referendum, the most visible Leave promise of all was the pledge to spend £350 million extra per week on the NHS after Brexit. It was emblazoned down the side of the big red bus they drove round the country, featuring in photo ops with Boris Johnson and other ministers now in the current cabinet. The message to millions of voters was clear – vote for Brexit and the NHS will be protected and its funding enhanced. They even handed out ‘Vote Leave to save our NHS’ leaflets in hospital wards, and claimed that “being a member of the EU harms the NHS.” They specifically proposed hiking the pay offer put to junior doctors off the back of this promise.
But since the campaign their pledges on the NHS have turned to dust. Last year, the Prime Minister who says “Brexit means Brexit” and has swallowed most of the Leave campaign’s lines refused to commit to the pledge. When the Article 50 Bill was going through the House of Commons, Tory MPs – including those who voted to leave the EU – defeated my amendment, supported by Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs, which would have called on the Government to deliver that £350 million extra per week for the NHS. So the Leave Tories are clear they do not want to deliver on the promise they made. And frankly, with the Government’s own forecasters expecting Government borrowing to rise by £58bn as a direct result of the Brexit vote, it is unlikely the money will be there even if they wanted to.
So, more than 10 months after the referendum, it is clear the promise of Tory Leavers to boost NHS funding has evaporated. All we are left with is their record. David Davis backing job cuts and an end to vital free operations. Liam Fox calling for an end to the ring-fencing of NHS spending, meaning brutal cuts that would hit patients. Boris Johnson saying that people should have to pay a fee just to see their GP.
At this election, it is vital that these hard Brexit Tories are held accountable, for their lies and their impossible promises. Above all, we must remind voters of this Tory betrayal every day between now and polling day.
This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post.