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It's official – there's a £200m hole in the Brexit bus NHS promise

The UK contribution to the EU budget was £156m a week in 2016-17. 

The strategists at the heart of the campaign to leave the European Union were in no doubt about what won it for them. “Would we have won without £350m [for] NHS?” said Vote Leave campaign director Dominic Cummings. “All our research and the close result strongly suggests no.” Insiders knew that, without that big red bus promising £350m more a week for health services, the British voters would not have given them their narrow victory.

That is why it is so maddening that this pledge has turned out to be a simple lie. Yesterday, the official Treasury figures for UK contributions to the EU budget came out. In 2016/17, it showed, the UK contribution to the budget was just £156m a week – less than half of what Vote Leave promised. The entire Vote Leave campaign was built on 200 million little lies.

This, of course, was perfectly apparent during the referendum campaign. Andrew Dilnot, the head of the impeccably impartial UK Statistics Authority, called the £350m figure “potentially misleading”. The figure was savaged by the then chair of the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee, Andrew Tyrie. A Conservative MP himself, he called it a “false prospectus” that amounted to “nonsense politics” and “a form of electoral bribery.” But seeing the lie busted in black and white on a balance sheet proves conclusively how utterly misleading it was.

The tragic truth is that Brexit, and especially the hard Brexit course this Government is charting, will mean less money for our NHS rather than more. The government’s own forecasters, the Office for Budget Responsibility, have forecast that Brexit will be directly responsible for a £58bn black hole in the public finances. This can only be filled by raising taxes or cutting spending – for example, on the NHS. I think we all know what choice this Tory government would make in that scenario. The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies has likewise concluded that the government’s decision to leave the single market alone will weaken the public finances by £8bn in 2019-20. To minimise the damage of Brexit to our NHS, the government should be negotiating to keep Britain in the single market, as the Open Britain group is campaigning for.

Brexit is having another dire impact on our NHS – staff shortages. Our health and social care system is dependent on workers from the EU, with more than 60,000 of them working in our NHS alone. Since the referendum, there has been a shocking 96 per cent fall in the number of EU nurses applying to work in the National Health Service – and this is before we even leave the EU and the government institutes a more draconian immigration system. The Tories’ target of cutting annual net migration to the "tens of thousands" will clearly damage our NHS; even their leader in Scotland, Ruth Davidson, is now calling on them to scrap it.

The cynical right-wingers who ran Vote Leave won partly by misleading the British people on the consequences of Brexit for our NHS. They are already being found out. Given that those who voted for Brexit did so in part to boost health funding, ministers have an absolute responsibility to ensure that Brexit does not damage our NHS. They should start by welcoming rather than repelling EU nationals seeking to work here, and by negotiating to retain our place in the single market.

Chuka Umunna is a leading supporter of Open Britain

Chuka Umunna is Labour MP for Streatham.

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Our union backed Brexit, but that doesn't mean scrapping freedom of movement

We can only improve the lives of our members, like those planning stike action at McDonalds, through solidarity.

The campaign to defend and extend free movement – highlighted by the launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement this month – is being seen in some circles as a back door strategy to re-run the EU referendum. If that was truly the case, then I don't think Unions like mine (the BFAWU) would be involved, especially as we campaigned to leave the EU ourselves.

In stark contrast to the rhetoric used by many sections of the Leave campaign, our argument wasn’t driven by fear and paranoia about migrant workers. A good number of the BFAWU’s membership is made up of workers not just from the EU, but from all corners of the world. They make a positive contribution to the industry that we represent. These people make a far larger and important contribution to our society and our communities than the wealthy Brexiteers, who sought to do nothing other than de-humanise them, cheered along by a rabid, right-wing press. 

Those who are calling for end to freedom of movement fail to realise that it’s people, rather than land and borders that makes the world we live in. Division works only in the interest of those that want to hold power, control, influence and wealth. Unfortunately, despite a rich history in terms of where division leads us, a good chunk of the UK population still falls for it. We believe that those who live and work here or in other countries should have their skills recognised and enjoy the same rights as those born in that country, including the democratic right to vote. 

Workers born outside of the UK contribute more than £328 million to the UK economy every day. Our NHS depends on their labour in order to keep it running; the leisure and hospitality industries depend on them in order to function; the food industry (including farming to a degree) is often propped up by their work.

The real architects of our misery and hardship reside in Westminster. It is they who introduced legislation designed to allow bosses to act with impunity and pay poverty wages. The only way we can really improve our lives is not as some would have you believe, by blaming other poor workers from other countries, it is through standing together in solidarity. By organising and combining that we become stronger as our fabulous members are showing through their decision to ballot for strike action in McDonalds.

Our members in McDonalds are both born in the UK and outside the UK, and where the bosses have separated groups of workers by pitting certain nationalities against each other, the workers organised have stood together and fought to win change for all, even organising themed social events to welcome each other in the face of the bosses ‘attempts to create divisions in the workplace.

Our union has held the long term view that we should have a planned economy with an ability to own and control the means of production. Our members saw the EU as a gravy train, working in the interests of wealthy elites and industrial scale tax avoidance. They felt that leaving the EU would give the UK the best opportunity to renationalise our key industries and begin a programme of manufacturing on a scale that would allow us to be self-sufficient and independent while enjoying solid trading relationships with other countries. Obviously, a key component in terms of facilitating this is continued freedom of movement.

Many of our members come from communities that voted to leave the EU. They are a reflection of real life that the movers and shakers in both the Leave and Remain campaigns took for granted. We weren’t surprised by the outcome of the EU referendum; after decades of politicians heaping blame on the EU for everything from the shape of fruit to personal hardship, what else could we possibly expect? However, we cannot allow migrant labour to remain as a political football to give succour to the prejudices of the uninformed. Given the same rights and freedoms as UK citizens, foreign workers have the ability to ensure that the UK actually makes a success of Brexit, one that benefits the many, rather than the few.

Ian Hodon is President of the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union and founding signatory of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement.