For those hoping the run-in to the EU referendum on June 23rd would contain some arguments of intellectual substance, I think this latest piece of news puts that idea to bed for good: both sides of the EU debate have decided to bring up the NHS as a possible bargaining chip in the fight for what happens to Britain’s EU membership. To be fair to Remain, this seems to be a fight picked by Leave and so a lot of what they’re doing is rebuttal; still, what is being put forth by either side is pretty grim reading.
Let’s start with the Leave argument that staying in the EU will be bad for the NHS. Michael Howard says:
“There are those that argue that leaving actually won’t make much difference to our economy, so its conjecture. On the other side of the argument, it’s a fact that at the moment because of EU rules we can’t ensure that doctors who want to practice in this country from the EU speak English, that goes on the other side of the balance sheet for the health service. And if we don’t have to pay £350million a week into EU coffers like we do at the moment, we would have more money to spend on the health service.”
Priti Patel has this to say on the matter:
“It is becoming clear that our membership of the EU is putting the NHS under threat. Every week we send £350 million to Brussels – that’s money that could be better invested in helping patients who rely on our NHS.”
If you were thinking after reading those two quotes, “why in hell would I listen to two right-wing Tories talk about saving the NHS?”, that was you thinking, not me. But seriously, I’m supposed to believe that if we could save £350 million a day from leaving the EU (the idea that this could be saved as a lump sum of cash is a fallacy, by the way) Priti Patel would be in a rush to dump it into the NHS? Give me a flipping break.
Look, here’s the thing: whether we stay in or leave the EU will make little difference to the NHS in direct terms. If we leave and the economy tanks, it will by definition hurt the NHS as it is funded by tax receipts, and if they go down, well….you work it out. Also, I suppose if we leave, a very right-wing government, should it be able to get into power, would be able to dismantle the NHS – in other words, actually do the thing left-wing activists have been claiming the Tories have been up to for the last six years. It would be easier outside of the EU for Britain to scythe down the National Health Service if it so chose. Of course, an uber left-wing UK government, outside of the EU, could heap whatever it liked on the NHS a lot easier as well, so there’s a flip side to that argument.
Neither of those governments are going to happen, so let’s take them out of the equation. While we’re at it, let’s stop talking about whether staying in or leaving the EU would make a difference to the NHS – it wouldn’t. And I don’t need to hear from Tories who don’t really give a toss about socialised medicine to know that that’s the case.