As much as the Chancellor tried to glam it up, today’s budget was packed full of nasty Brexit-based shocks. The headlines will of course be dominated by the huge slowdown in future economic growth, leaving those mythical Brexit sunlit uplands disappearing over the horizon like a mirage. Over the next half-decade, the UK’s GDP growth is predicted to dip sharply. Before the Brexit referendum, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) was predicting 2.1% growth in 2020. Now it says it will be a pathetic 1.3%. We have gone from the fastest growing economy in the G7 to among the slowest. Annual earnings growth has also been revised down over the next five years, adding to the Brexit squeeze already hitting workers in their pockets.
But perhaps the cruellest truth revealed by this brutal Brexit budget was the extent of the lie behind the famous ‘£350 million extra for the NHS’ claim trumpeted so loudly by the Vote Leave campaign. Because, far from receiving extra money, today’s budget revealed that the Government will actually be spending less extra money on the NHS than it will waste on Brexit. That’s right: while another £3 billion will be tossed into the endless black hole of Brexit, just £2.8 billion extra will be going to the NHS. I don’t know about you, but I don’t remember seeing a big red bus driving around the country last year with the slogan ‘Vote Leave for less NHS spending, because we’ll have to blow it all on Brexit’. Maybe they couldn’t find a bus big enough. And it’s not just the money: The Nursing and Midwifery Council says there’s been a huge drop-off in the number of European nurses working in the NHS since Brexit, further worsening a predicted shortfall of 42,000 nurses by 2020.
And remember: every pound the Government throws away on Brexit is money that could have been better spent on nurses, doctors and police officers, on schools, hospitals and housing. Every day, the true price of Brexit becomes clearer: less money for public services (including the NHS), lower wages, lower standards of living, lower economic growth, higher inflation, higher deficits, higher prices in the shops. As Open Britain revealed today, whoever is in charge of the public finances starts with their hands tied firmly behind their backs because of Brexit. With less money to spend, there is less flexibility to focus on domestic priorities. Millions of people voted to leave the European Union because they were promised a brighter future, but now we can all see the clouds gathering.
However, as new facts come to light, such as the ones revealed today, and as the future of our country continues to look more and more uncertain, it’s important to remember one crucial thing: if this darker, more uncertain, poorer future isn’t what you voted for, if what you were promised in the referendum isn’t matching up with the realities you’re facing now, you have every right to keep an open mind. That’s democracy.