It hasn’t taken long for politicians who supported the UK leaving the European Union (EU) to begin to backtrack on promises they made in order to secure a victory in yesterday’s referendum. The three which have so far come to light are:
1. INVESTMENT IN THE NHS
A key message from the Leave campaign, particularly by the leader of the UKIP, Nigel Farage, was that the 350 million a week that we currently pay into the EU will be used to invest in the NHS. Clearly this was never going to happen. Firstly, we may pay that amount into the EU but millions automatically comes back to the UK in rebates and millions more in various aid programmes and support packages for the UK. In reality we could only expect to save 190 million a week. Even that amount is unlikely ever to reach the NHS. Nigel Farage went on Good Morning Britain yesterday and told the viewers that this promise was a “mistake”. When asked if he could guarantee that the money would go to the NHS he simply said: “No I can’t,” and claimed that he would never had made that claim, blaming it on the official Leave campaign. (video) He may never have directly made that claim but he propagated the myth that the Leave campaign plastered on billboards and campaign buses – giving a clear implication that the money would fund the NHS. He then tried to suggest that we now have a 10 billion pound “featherbed, that will be free money that we can spend on the NHS, on schools, on whatever it is.” It seems to me that any money saved will just disappear in compensating for the economic damages that may occur after Brexit, or will simply be used for tax cuts for the better-off or used to bring down the deficit.
Does anyone believe that right-wing politicians of the ilk of Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove – who all supported Brexit – have any interest in increasing public spending when they have been supporting austerity for the last six years? I’ve never believed that Nigel Farage or his like have any desire to invest in the NHS in particular. Most are ideologically opposed to the NHS and would undoubtedly continue the trend of recent Conservative Governments to cut-back on NHS funding and to encourage and allow privatisation of support services – privatising the NHS by stealth through the back door. I found the 350 million a week claim especially repugnant as it played on many people’s genuine desire to see the NHS strengthened. How many of those who voted to Leave the EU did so believing that it would benefit the NHS? Shameful exploitation and manipulation of people’s concerns.
2. IMMIGRATION WILL BE REDUCED OR EVEN STOPPED
A particular nasty element of the Leave campaign has been the hostility towards immigration, especially immigration from Eastern Europe and outside of the European Union. Threats were bandied around that 77 million people from Turkey could flood into the country if it was allowed to join the EU – ignoring the fact that Turkey is in no position to be joining the EU anytime soon and even if it did, does anyone believe that the entire population of 77 million would move to the UK or elsewhere in the EU? Voting for Brexit was held up as an answer to people’s concerns that immigration is placing a strain on the UK’s public services, schools, the NHS and the welfare system – ignoring the fact that any strain that does exist has been exasperated by continuing austerity cuts in our public services. The Leave campaign argued that voting for Brexit would allow the UK to take back control of its borders – by implication suggesting that the borders would be closed and immigration would cease or at least dramatically fall. More disturbingly, the genuine concerns of many Britons over immigration has been hijacked by the racists of UKIP and racists around the UK to justify a Brexit vote. For many, Brexit had become a single issue referendum, and that issue was immigration.
Tory MEP Daniel Harron made it clear to the BBC News this morning that immigration is far from over or far from even being reduced dramatically:
“People are grown up and they understand this isn’t something that can happen tomorrow. No one has ever suggested there is going to be no immigration. There will be EU nationals watching this programme now and I want to underline – no one has suggested any change in their status. In terms of migration from the EU the one thing we can do as a result is we will no longer be citizens of the European Union. 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. Of course there is still going to be immigration. There are still going to be people coming here to work and you will look in vain for anything the Leave campaign said at any point that suggested there would be any kind of border closure or pulling up of the drawbridge.”
Yet another myth about the benefits of Brexit is unwinding before the vote is even two days old.
3. IMMEDIATE IMPLEMENTATION OF ARTICLE 50 OF THE LISBON TREATY
In order to begin withdrawal negotiations with the EU the British Government has to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. This tells the rest of the EU that we wish to leave the Union and begins the process. In the history of the no country has ever invoked Article 50. Until we invoke the Article the Brexit vote remains a non-binding decision. In theory the Government can ignore it and unless they invoke Article 50 we simply continue as full members of the EU. Of course, this is not going to happen. The Government will invoke the Article and once it has done the process is irreversible unless the 27 remaining members of the EU agree to cancel it – which, again, is not going to happen. When David Cameron announced he was resigning in October he suggested that the Article wouldn’t be invoked until the new Prime Minister was in place. This goes completely against what the Brexit campaigners were saying before the vote – that they would march to Brussels and invoke Article 50 right away. This morning, in a classic politician backtracking speech, Brexit supporter Dr Liam Fox said:
“A lot of things were said in advance of this referendum that we might want to think about again and that (invoking article 50) is one of them. I think that it doesn’t make any sense to trigger article 50 without having a period of reflection first, for the Cabinet to determine exactly what it is that we’re going to be seeking and in what timescale. And then you have to also consider what is happening with the French elections and the German elections next year and the implications that that might have for them. So a period of calm, a period of reflection, to let it all sink in and to work through what the actual technicalities are.”
This idea of a period of reflection and calm is already causing concern. Other EU nations are wanting the UK to get on with withdrawal negotiations. This isn’t out of a desire to be rid of us, but is to bring the matter to a close as quickly as possible to prevent a growing uncertainty over the future. This uncertainty is dangerous to the stability of economies of not only the UK and Europe, but in the world beyond. If we don’t invoke Article 50 until October, for instance, it could then take another two years to conclude the negotiations to withdraw meaning that we wouldn’t actually withdraw from the Union until close to Christmas 2018. In that time we will have a growing sense of frustration among Brexit supporters and growing economic instability. The decision has been made to leave, for good or worse. We now need to get on with it and secure the best deal with the rest of the EU. The longer we leave it the more potential damage will be caused and the more hostile the rest of the EU is likely to become at our procrastination.