Now that the Brexit storm appears to have passed, let’s take a reality check and review the promises that politicians have made during their campaigns and whether or not these can be fulfilled. Recall that the “Leave” vote emerged victorious during the EU referendum late last month, carried mostly by these promises.
Update: In a statement made by Iain Duncan Smith, former UK Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and one of the biggest proponents of the “Leave” campaign, the weekend right after the EU referendum, he said that these promises were merely a series of possibilities. Uh oh.
- £350M EU weekly fee to be transferred to NHS
Perhaps the biggest selling point of the “Leave” campaign was to funnel the £350 million fee allegedly being paid to the EU towards the NHS, resulting in more funds to support healthcare services in the UK. For one, the £350 million figure was already debated and proved inaccurate since a £74 million rebate has been negotiated by Margaret Thatcher. This leaves the total figure at £276 million each week.
In addition, nearly half of that amount is spent on aid payments to British regions, support for UK farmers, and research by UK universities and companies. Economists say that if there’s any amount to be returned to the NHS this week, it would only amount to around £161 million.
Just days after the historic Brexit vote, UKIP leader and pro-Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage himself distanced himself from this promise and even called it a mistake. In an interview with ITV’s Good Morning Britain, he acknowledged that 17 million people who voted to leave the EU on the basis of the £350 million returning to the NHS made a mistake.
- Leaving the EU will cut immigration
Another major factor that led most voters to favor leaving the EU was the promise of reduced immigration, relieving the pressure on public services and allowing UK citizens to make the most out of these. Pro-Brexit campaigners even published reports showing that near-record net migration of 333,000, citing that the situation is getting out of control.
However, in an interview with BBC Newsnight, Eurosceptic Tory leader Daniel Hannan said that the “Leave” campaign never really promised to cut immigration numbers. He even added that free movement of workers to and from the UK should continue in order to make sure that the UK retains access to the single market.
Former London mayor Boris Johnson, another strong pro-Brexit leader, tried to downplay the issue in an article on the Telegraph the following Monday. He explained that he doesn’t believe that most of the people who voted for a Brexit did so because of immigration anxieties. “Leave” campaigner Nigel Evans also clarified in an interview that they meant to control immigration, which doesn’t automatically translate to brining it down. Say what?!
- UK can retain preferential access to a single market
One of the economic issues dividing the “Remain” and “Leave” camps was the UK’s access to a single market, which has been beneficial in supporting trade activity and employment in the region. Pro-Brexit campaigners asserted that the UK could keep up its trade levels and work under World Trade Organization rules instead of being confined to EU laws. This led to speculations that the UK would unilaterally remove tariffs on imports.
However, economists have noted that to retain preferential access to a single market, the UK would have to accept freedom of movement. Leader of the House of Commons Chris Grayling said that they would attempt to have a free trade agreement with the EU while at the same time controlling the flow of people into the country, perhaps introducing a points-based migration system. I guess we’ll chalk this one up as a wait-and-see…
- Ending VAT on household energy bills
“Leave” campaigners have also promised as much as £2 billion in savings by ending VAT on household energy bills. Although a VAT reduction or elimination can be up for discussion, it won’t necessarily translate to billions of sterling in savings because the UK actually imports much of its energy. To make things worse, the sharp depreciation of the pound in the days after the EU referendum would leave imports more expensive, which would then increase the pressure on household energy costs. So much for that!
- Invoking Article 50 right away
The “Leave” campaign didn’t exactly march all guns-a-blazing to Brussels to demand an exit from the EU, as pro-Brexit leaders appear to be taking things slow from here. Of course that’s not really a bad thing since the UK is also in the middle of selecting its next Prime Minister and it would be best to go about the negotiations prudently.
Brexit campaigner Dr. Liam Fox explained that it doesn’t make sense to invoke Article 50 right away without having a period of reflection first. This way, the Cabinet will be able to discuss what exactly they will be seeking and in what timescale. Fox added that German and French elections are set to take place soon and that this could complicate the political landscape.
UK leadership candidate Theresa May even mentioned that they aren’t likely to start the legal process of leaving the EU within the year, as the frontrunner said that they need a clear negotiating stance before heading to Brussels. Still, her rival for the leadership, Junior energy minister Andrea Leadsom, struck a more urgent note in saying that they need to make progress right away. Keep in mind, however, that May voted to remain in the EU while Leadsom voted to leave, and politicians might prefer a candidate who was on the winning side of the EU referendum.