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16 September 2017

Boris Johnson resurrects the Leave campaign’s £350m for NHS fantasy

A sign of desperation from the Foreign Secretary, as the mess of Brexit threatens his reputation.

By Anoosh Chakelian

In a column for the Telegraph, Boris Johnson has repeated the false claim that Brexit will result in £350m a week for the NHS.

“Once we have settled our accounts, we will take back control of roughly £350 million per week,” he writes. “It would be a fine thing, as many of us have pointed out, if a lot of that money went on the NHS.”

This notorious pledge – its place on the side of the Vote Leave battle bus now a symbol of the misleading campaign – was dropped even by the most ardent Brexiteers in the aftermath of the EU referendum.

Just a few hours after the result, Nigel Farage himself was on Good Morning Britain, merrily calling the claim “a mistake”. Change Britain, the Vote Leave campaign’s successor group, abandoned the promise in September last year.

The figure is inaccurate, because it doesn’t account for the UK’s rebate, which is removed before it sends any money to Brussels.

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After the rebate, the money it paid the EU in 2014 was £276m per week – not the £350m claimed – and that money is sent back to Britain for farming subsidies, underdeveloped regions, science and universities, etc. On some projects, this funding is matched by private investors.

So we wouldn’t be getting £350m or £276m a week extra by leaving. Also, Britain’s contribution to the EU has been decreasing since 2014. The Leave campaign’s figure is simply wrong.

Johnson, a fairweather Brexiteer, knows full well that it’s inaccurate. Perhaps he thinks the insertion of the craven adverb “roughly” into his column protects him. But he’ll need more than that to rescue his reputation.

As Brexit becomes increasingly messy, his future career looks ever more precarious. He has staked his political standing on Brexit working out, and reached the Foreign Office because of this gamble.

But now it’s going wrong, he has to resort to a desperate and shallow “vision for a bold, thriving Britain” in column inches to put pressure on Theresa May (while distancing himself from her course of action), and remind people that he still exists as a potential successor.

With plummeting personal ratings, it looks less likely he’ll succeed. From being Britain’s most respected politician in 2012, with 58 per cent of voters onside, he’s now disliked or really disliked by 53 per cent of the British public, according to YouGov. Even the most masterful “roughly” won’t help you with those stats.