The Prime Minister’s proclamation during her Party Conference speech that austerity is set to come to an end would be a welcome one, if in fact it were true. In reality, we know that if she continues to pursue her Brexit agenda, then further strain on the economy will only lead to further savings having to be found. Far from gaining the mythical £350million a week for the NHS, Brexit’s likely impact on growth and investment in the UK economy will hit tax revenues to the extent that the government will have little choice but to make further cuts, seeing austerity extend far into the future rather than come to an end.
Jeremy Corbyn, whose position on Brexit appears to be little different in substance to Theresa May’s, would do well to remember this too. For all his talk of tackling the growing inequality that exists in Britain, he seems to be keen to avoid the fact that Brexit is likely to only increase the gap between the rich and the poor. Indeed, it’s already happening; whilst the richest in society can afford to absorb the increased costs brought about by the fall in the value of the pound since the vote to leave the EU, those on low incomes cannot, and suffer as a result. What is most tragic is that, according to a new report by the Carnegie Trust, the economically disadvantaged towns that Jeremy Corbyn now supposedly stands up for are the most likely to suffer the worst consequences of leaving the EU.
Only the Liberal Democrats have a realistic plan to end austerity and reduce inequality. At our own conference in Brighton, we announced plans to build an economy that works for everyone, rejecting the dogmatic ideological battles of the Labour and Conservative parties. To do this, we would invest in skills and lifelong learning opportunities for all, as well as vital infrastructure projects such as super-fast broadband. Alongside this we would also devolve more powers to cities and regions so that decisions on revenue raising and spending are made closer to the people those decisions affect. To tackle inequality, we would introduce tax reforms that would see the wealthiest pay more whilst younger people and those on low incomes pay less, therefore reversing the current trend that has seen wealth inequality increase to the extent that 45% of the nation’s wealth is owned by only 10% of its households. And we would pledge the £3billion the Chancellor has set aside to fund, amongst other things, extra customs and border staff to deliver Brexit, on recruiting doctors, nurses, teachers and police officers in the most deprived areas around the country.
Finally, and most importantly, the Liberal Democrats would commit to giving the people, not politicians, the final say on the Brexit deal, including the option to stay in the EU. Despite their rhetoric, Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn’s insistence on delivering a shambolic Brexit puts Britain on a path where austerity will deepen, and inequality will continue to rise. We demand better for Britain. The Conservatives’ current austerity policies are hurting people, and Brexit will only make things worse, and instead of opposing it, the Labour Party continue to aid and abet the Tories’ plans. That’s why my Liberal Democrat colleagues and I are leading the fight to stop Brexit, so we can focus instead on building a fairer, more equal Britain.