Dividing UK government, Johnson demands boost to health funding 

  23 January 2018    Read: 933
Dividing UK government, Johnson demands boost to health funding 

Foreign minister Boris Johnson will press Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday to boost funding for Britain’s public health service to try to revive the fortunes of her Conservative Party and grab back the domestic agenda.

At a regular meeting of top ministers that will discuss what is widely portrayed as a health crisis in Britain, Johnson will make a bid to secure an extra 100 million pounds ($140 million) a week for the National Health Service, a source close to Johnson told Reuters on condition of anonymity. The sum would be presented as the kind of benefit Brexit would bring.

May is under pressure over the state of the health service from the opposition Labour Party, which says healthcare is being put “recklessly” at risk by ministers unable to tackle bed shortages and thousands of canceled operations.

But the appeal for more funding for the NHS will not be received well by others in May’s divided Conservative government. Finance minister Philip Hammond says he has already increased payments to the NHS and May says funding is at record levels.

“Mr Johnson is the foreign secretary,” Hammond told reporters in Brussels.


“I gave the health secretary an extra 6 billion pounds at the recent budget and we’ll look at departmental allocations again at the spending review when that takes place.”

The row is yet another headache for May, whose weakness since losing her party’s majority at an election last June was underlined by a botched reshuffle of her top team of ministers earlier this month.

With the Conservatives increasingly concerned that Labour is setting the political agenda in Britain by focusing on health, housing and education, many members of the ruling party say it needs to show more clearly the benefits of Brexit.

Johnson and other Brexit supporters said during the campaign for the 2016 referendum on leaving the European Union that Britain pays 350 million pounds a week to the bloc and promised to spend the money on the NHS instead if Britain voted to leave.

Mindful of that promise, some Conservatives are calling for the government to increase funding.

“We have to deliver Brexit and deliver for the NHS,” Andrew Bridgen, a pro-Brexit lawmaker, told Reuters.

Britain is not due to leave the EU until March next year and then will start a transition that is expected to take around two years, during which little, including payments to the block, will change.

But fights over the so-called Brexit dividend - the funds that will be freed up when Britain stops paying into EU coffers - are worsening, with the ministers for health, education and defense and others bidding for more funds for their departments.

“The biggest divisions are over how to spend the money that comes back,” said a former aide to May. “It’s all about the Brexit dividend.”


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