‘Would I Lie to You?’ Brexit Edition – Series 3, Episode 27

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It initially flew onto the scene with a Big Red Bus and ‘£350m a week for the NHS’ splattered across the sides. Since then, the long-running show has become a national favourite. Although not packed with quite as much intentional comedy as the original, its regular panellists, Theresa May and Boris Johnson, are the stars that keep it alive and stun their audiences almost every day with their miraculous ability to deceive without anyone blinking an eye. It’s the kind of power to mislead that both David Mitchell and Lee Mack would be proud of. Joined by colleagues from across the Eurosceptic world, the Brexit Edition of ‘Would I Lie to You?’ has kept Britain captivated. If nobody believed a word that came out of any of these people’s mouths before this show started, then you’d hope nobody would now.

However, today we lay witness to its most recent episode and, to little surprise, Theresa May came out with a corker. ‘£20bn for the NHS’ partly funded by a ‘Brexit dividend’. That’s £20bn extra funding per year for the NHS by 2023 with a chunk of that money coming from what we’re ‘earning’ from Brexit. Let’s face it, we’ve been caught out by some whoppers since the Brexiteers ran their almost entirely fact-empty campaign back in 2016, but surely this one can’t get past us?  To put the claim into perspective, the Government’s own Brexit impact assessment tells us that the hit to public finances will be at least £20bn a year by 2023. A ‘soft’ Brexit would leave national income 2% per year, with that figure moving to 8% per year if we end up ploughing through with a Will of the People ‘hard’ Brexit. Further, the trade barriers thrown up by Brexit would mean health spending will cost between 6% and 18% more by 2023. So damaging was this impact assessment that the government refused to release it because of the impact it would have on Brexit negotiations, with security guards confiscating the phones of MPs who would have access to it so that they could not take photos. More worryingly, this assessment doesn’t even consider the impact on the NHS of a reduction in the tens of thousands of doctors, nurses and other staff who come from the EU and are so valuable to its day-to-day ability to survive. In fact, the list of the likely impacts of Brexit on the NHS could go on to include changes to healthcare staff rights, less cross-border collaboration for biomedical research and medical technology as well less funding for social care. If austerity and background privatisation wasn’t the great danger to our NHS, then Brexit certainly is. Even with Theresa May’s best attempts to say otherwise, and the Opposition’s determination to posit is as a mere side-issue, this is and will remain true for the foreseeable future.

What’s worse, this £20bn a year isn’t near the extra 4% year-on-year rises that almost every think tank says the NHS needs to keep up with the demands of an ageing population. After brutal cuts and years of underfunding ever since the Coalition got into power in 2010, the NHS has been on its knees. Giving this £20bn out as what Theresa says is a ‘70th birthday present’ is like giving your friend a second-hand Nokia for their birthday eight years after you’d smashed their Samsung Galaxy. It’s thoughtless at best and insulting at worst.

Now, let’s look at that ‘Brexit dividend’ claim again. In what fantasy world is Theresa May living that she thinks Brexit will offer any sort of ‘dividend’ to fund increases in NHS funding? In truth, I hope that she knows she’s lying, because the alternative is that the leader of our country truly believes that Brexit will help pay for the NHS. The overwhelmingly likely scenario is, in fact, this: Theresa May knows she’s lying. Theresa May knows that Britain is on a road that leads to a drop into the abyss, and we have our foot on the accelerator. The Brexit heroes Davies, Johnson, Rees-Mogg et al. continue to peddle the utopian vision of a post-Brexit future, but they and Theresa May know that this utopian future doesn’t exist. In the face of an increasingly disbelieving public, they need to throw out something to keep hopes alive. What better dog-bone than the one they promised? A £380m a week spending boost to our beloved, starving NHS.

So, will we get this one right and call it out for the utter lie that it is? My guess is that it’s the same for almost every political claim that’s been made over the past two years. If you want to believe it’s true, then no. If you know that it’s a complete falsity designed to prop up a fledgling Brexit process, then yes. For those in between, it’s up to how the British media decides to spin it.

Unfortunately, despite my constant doubting, Brexit isn’t a comedy show. Brexit is a real-life horror show unfolding before our eyes, a madness that leaves me in disbelief every day. There are moments when I cannot comprehend what we’re doing to ourselves all in the name of ‘taking back control’ or, if you take it for what it is, to stop other human beings from making a life for themselves and contributing to our society. It is the most important issue of our times and a properly functioning NHS that is truly free at the point of use is the most valuable thing this country has. It’s not all about the money, of course. The NHS needs to reform and it will need to become more efficient. However, more than anything, it needs a level of funding that allows it to do its job safely and effectively. That funding is going to have to come from somewhere, but that somewhere won’t be Brexit. These lies cannot be allowed to go unchallenged. Don’t let these madmen take us for fools, and let’s call this one out for what it is.

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