LOCAL parliamentarians have condemned UK foreign minister Boris Johnson for his “disgraceful” repetition of a widely discredited assertion that the UK will have an extra £350 million a week to spend on the NHS post-Brexit.
Shetland’s Liberal Democrat MSP Tavish Scott and SNP Highlands and Islands list MSP Maree Todd both denounced the foreign secretary for his comments at the weekend.
Johnson’s article in Saturday’s Daily Telegraph resulted in the unusual spectacle of a cabinet minister being rebuked by a senior civil servant.
The Leave campaign wrongly stated on billboards emblazoned on the side of buses during the Brexit campaign that £350 million was being sent to Brussels and the money should instead be spent on the NHS.
That figure took no account of an EU rebate – negotiated in the 1980s by Margaret Thatcher – reducing the sum by around £100 million a week. In addition, a substantial proportion of the money spent comes back to the UK – including in areas beneficial to Shetland such as agricultural subsidies and rural development grants.
Johnson’s article stated: “Once we have settled our accounts, we will take back control of roughly £350 million per week. It would be a fine thing, as many of us have pointed out, if a lot of that money went on the NHS, provided we use that cash injection to modernise and make the most of new technology.”
While the UK will “take back control” of how the money previously sent to Brussels is spent, Scott and Todd both rubbished the idea that much of it could simply be used to bolster a stretched NHS budget.
“The £350 million figure was a lie when Boris Johnson used it in the Leave campaign, and it’s a lie today,” Scott said. “And for the foreign secretary of the UK to be using figures that he knows – and independent bodies know – are untrue is disgraceful.
“The idea that Boris Johnson can guarantee £350 million a week will be spent on the NHS doesn’t really bear any scrutiny because of the pressures that the public finances bear as we lose the European grants – particularly agriculture, LEADER funding and lots of other European funds that our schools benefit from.”
He said the foreign secretary was “throwing red meat at the right wing of the Tory party and the UKIP tendency without any sense of what is in our national interest”.
“He simply makes it up as he goes along to suit not the country, not even the Tory party, but the Boris Johnson party – this is all about Boris.”
In addition to the £350 million lie, Scott said Johnson had also claimed no money would be required for a transition period after the UK exits in 2019 – contradicting his own government’s stance.
Todd said the false claim was “one of the most shocking things of the whole Brexit debacle”.
“Hearing those lies being perpetuated by people who should know better – he, I think, knew that and he’s regurgitated a lie that he’s denied for many months, and is being quite rightly told off for it.
“It all harks back to internal Tory machinations, which is basically what Brexit is about, and it’s pretty horrifying for the rest of us who aren’t Tory party members to be on the outside looking in.”
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