Boris Johnson sticks by £350m NHS claim and sets out vision for Brexit

Lucy White
Source: Getty

Foreign secretary Boris Johnson has revived the £350m figure which featured so prominently in the run-up to the EU referendum last year, as Leave campaigners claimed that was the sum which would be saved per week by quitting the EU and could be spent on the NHS.

In a hefty piece for the Daily Telegraph today, Johnson insisted that “once we have settled our accounts, we will take back control of roughly £350 million per week”. He added that “it would be a fine thing... if a lot of that money went on the NHS”.

Read more: One in four Brexit voters think they were duped by the Leave campaign

Packed with patriotism and support for Brexit, Johnson's article also stated his belief that the UK “can be the greatest country on Earth”.

His appearance in the press comes ahead of a Brexit speech by Prime Minister Theresa May in Florence on Friday. The timing has led to some speculation over whether Johnson is attempting to set himself up as a potential successor as leader of the Conservative Party.

However the move may have backfired, as bookie Ladbrokes noted his odds of bring the next MP to be booted out of the cabinet have shifted to 6/1 from 8/1. His odds of becoming the next Tory leader remain unchanged at 8/1, behind David Davis at 7/2 and Jacob Rees-Mogg at 6/1.

Read more: Odds slashed on Jacob Rees-Mogg to replace Theresa May as Tory leader

The £350m claim on the "Brexit Bus"

Johnson's renewed claim that £350m would be saved to spend on the NHS, which even featured on the side of a Leave campaign bus, was shouted down by Remain campaigners last year who accused Leave of misleading the public.

Even Leave campaigner and Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston called the figure a “financial lie” while the head of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir Andrew Dilnot, said it was “potentially misleading”.

But Johnson attempted to pull supporters of the NHS onside, saying the money could still be directed to the healthcare system and calling it “one of the great unifying institutions of our country”.

“It is the top political priority of the British people and, under the leadership of Jeremy Hunt, it is indeed the top priority of the Conservative Party. Coming out of the EU will give us an opportunity to drive that message home,” he said.

Read more: Jeremy Hunt hits back at Stephen Hawking over the NHS after the scientist accuses the health secretary of "cherry-picking" evidence

The rest of Boris Johnson's Brexit vision

Johnson appeared to have a “pick-n-mix” approach to retaining or ditching certain EU regulations.

“Our systems of standards will remain absolutely flush with the rest of the EU,” he said, but when addressing the housing shortage he added: “There may be ways of simplifying planning procedures, post-Brexit, and abbreviating impact assessments, without in any way compromising the environment.”

He set out a more progressive view of Britain, free from the “red tape” of Brussels, saying that the chancellor could cut VAT on tampons “at the stroke of a pen”.

Read more: Women rejoice: The tampon tax is about to be axed as George Osborne says deal with EU "days away"

While immigration was one of the most contentious issues in last year's referendum, Johnson seems ready to appease the City bosses who are concerned that talent could be cut off by a closed-doors policy.

“We will have an immigration policy that suits the UK, not slamming the door but welcoming the talent we need, from the EU and around the world. Of course we will make sure that business gets the skills it needs, but business will no longer be able to use immigration as an excuse not to invest in the young people of this country,” he said.

At the same time, Johnson appeared to think it would be possible to retain some access to the EU's single market.

“We would not expect to pay for access to their markets any more than they would expect to pay for access to ours,” he wrote.

Read more: EU chief Brexit negotiator says financial services cannot "opt-in" to single market

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