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Theresa May refuses to back Boris Johnson’s ‘Brexit dividend’ claim

Prime minister, touring UK, says ‘vast amounts of money’ will not go to Brussels so there will be more cash for NHS

Theresa May has refused to back Boris Johnson’s claim that there would be a “Brexit dividend” for the UK, as she toured the country to mark one year until Britain leaves the European Union.

The prime minister said the UK would no longer be sending “vast amounts of money” to Brussels so there would inevitably be more cash available for spending priorities, including the NHS.

In a tweet on Wednesday, the foreign secretary, a leading Vote Leave campaigner, said: “Fantastic news about NHS funding. The fruits of a strong economy and a Tory government. Stand by for Brexit dividend!!”

 

His missive followed May’s pledge this week to bring forward a long-term funding plan for the NHS in response to growing concerns that key health services are being overwhelmed by rising demand.

 

She faces mounting pressure from within Conservative ranks, led by Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, and Johnson for her to ditch the small spending rises the NHS has received since 2010 and commit many billions of pounds a year instead.

May said: “Of course, when we leave the European Union we’re no longer going to be spending vast sums of money, year in and year out, sending that money to European Union.

“So there will be money available here in the UK for us to spend on our priorities, priorities like the NHS and schools.”

However, she refused to use the term “Brexit dividend” despite being specifically asked to in an interview with the BBC.

“Look, there’s going to be money that otherwise we would have been sending to the European Union that we’re going to be able to spend on priorities in the UK,” she replied.

 

May’s reluctance to describe the return of the UK’s £8bn annual net contribution to Brussels as a “dividend” suggests she has reservations about implying there would be a net gain from leaving the EU.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that the wider economic impact of Brexit will weaken the public finances by around £15bn per year by the early 2020s, the equivalent of about 10% of the NHS budget.

May, who backed remain, once again refused to say whether she had changed her mind about Brexit. “Some were predicting great problems if people voted for Brexit. I said the sky won’t fall in, but it will be different and it will be different. Now, what I’m charged with as prime minister is delivering on that Brexit vote,” she said.

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