This article was first published on LabourList on 31 January 2017.
Today, the bill giving the government the power to trigger Article 50 – the mechanism by which we will leave the EU – will start to be debated in the house of commons. This is a golden opportunity for MPs who want to support our National Health Service, and deliver on the will of the people, to ensure the government fulfils the leave campaign’s pledge to spend £350 million more a week on our NHS, something most remain voters can back, too.
That’s why I have put down an amendment to the legislation, making the passing of the bill contingent on the government providing an analysis of the impact of Brexit on the public finances, and in particular health spending.
The government has no mandate for a Brexit that leaves our NHS worse off. If it has a mandate, it is to deliver on the promise made by Vote Leave during the EU referendum campaign – to spend £350 million more a week on our NHS.
As the winter crisis of recent weeks and months has demonstrated, our NHS does need this spending boost desperately. After seven years of Tory underfunding and incompetent reorganisations, we are dealing with an A&E crisis, a social care crisis, a mental health crisis, and a chronic lack of GPs. Fulfilling Vote Leave’s pledge is not just about respecting the will of the people; it is about doing the best for our National Health Service.
This cannot be allowed to become a here today, gone tomorrow policy offer that is lost in the political maelstrom. It was by far the most high-profile and the most graphic promise made by the Leave campaigners – literally plastered on the side of a red bus that was driven around Britain for months. Five of the MPs who made this pledge are now members of the cabinet, including Boris Johnson.
The government clearly doesn’t want to discuss this amendment – or indeed, any others at all. They had to be dragged kicking and screaming by both the High Court and the Supreme Court just to put this matter to parliament at all.
Now, they want to get this through parliament as quickly as possible – without even introducing the white paper that David Davis spoke of just days before he was elevated to the cabinet. They have provided just five days for MPs to discuss the bill – a fraction of the time provided to debate the Maastricht treaty, the Lisbon treaty or any other piece of important, EU-related legislation ever put before the house of commons. They briefed extensively in advance that they wanted the legislation to be “amendment-proof”. They are trying to stop MPs from fighting not just to deliver the promise made to our NHS, but to even debate many other very important aspects of Brexit, including important amendments put down by other Labour MPs.
We need to fight this disgraceful attempt to muzzle democracy and let the Leavers in the cabinet off the hook. And we need to put as much pressure as possible on the government to give our National Health Service the spending boost it desperately needs.