Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised new funds for Britain‘s state-run national health service (NHS) on Sunday, seeking to fulfil one of the promises of his 2016 Brexit campaign.
Johnson pledged an extra £1.8 billion (2.0 billion euros, $2.2 billion) to immediately help frontline services, in a move that further fuelled speculation he is preparing for a snap election.
During the referendum on Britain’s European Union membership, Johnson’s “Vote Leave” campaign promised to divert £350 million a week sent to Brussels to the NHS after Brexit.
But the claim was misleading — Britain’s gross contribution to the EU budget is £350 million but it gets a £85 million a week rebate.
In an article in the Sunday Times, Johnson paid tribute to NHS staff but noted “the pressures, the delays, the cancellations and the obvious need to get more funding to the front line”.
“Which is why I am so determined to deliver now on the promises of that 2016 referendum campaign: not just to honour the will of the people, but to increase the cash available for this amazing national institution,” he wrote.
However, the main opposition Labour party questioned whether the money would ever be delivered and said that even if it was, it would not make up for a decade of spending cuts.
The Nuffield Trust health think tank said the NHS has a £6 billion maintenance backlog and the new funds were only a “fraction” of what was needed to fulfil Johnson’s pledge to modernise 20 hospitals.
Critics also argue that spending plans will never be fulfilled if there is a “no deal” Brexit.
Johnson has vowed to take Britain out of the European Union on October 31, after his predecessor Theresa May was forced to twice delay Brexit amid wrangling over the exit terms.
Parliament has rejected the divorce deal May struck with the EU but many MPs say they will stop Johnson’s threat to leave without a deal, fearing the economic disruption.
EU leaders meanwhile say they will not renegotiate May’s deal, creating an impasse that many at Westminster believe can only end in a snap election.
Johnson has fuelled this speculation by touring Britain and making a series of domestic policy pledges in his first days in Downing Street. The NHS pledge follows a promise on police funding.