In a week that saw Boris Johnson call President Obama a hypocrite on sovereignty – don’t the states pool sovereignty to be part of the stronger Union? – the leaders of the Leave campaign became bastions for our NHS. Strange then that Michael Gove, Peter Bone, Douglas Carswell, Dan Hannan and Nigel Farage have all publicly called for the privatisation of the NHS, Boris for the introduction of charges (links here, here, here, here , here and here respectively). This of course, rather rare, as most on the Leave side reserve their loathing for publicly funded and provided healthcare for private.
However, this is not the only two-faced politicking that the Leave campaigners partake in, regarding our public services. Ably assisted by large sections of the media, Outers have created a, largely accepted, narrative that migrants are a drain on our public services. This is one of the ways that Farage’s party transcend typical left and right support. He positions himself on the side of ‘our’ public services, arguing that it is the demand caused by immigrants that blights us – a populist alibi for his truly held Thatcherite perspective of public services, and workers’ rights.
Polling shows the success of this narrative. Only 21% of the UK public believe that EU workers in the UK are more of a benefit to Britain than they are a cost, whilst 53% believe their costs outweigh the benefit of their residence (The Migration Observatory, 2015). For 44% the term ‘immigration’ evokes negative feelings and a recent YouGov poll (11-12 April) found 32% believe it would be ‘good’ for the NHS if we left the EU, whilst only 14% thought it would be ‘bad’.
However, EU migrants make a net fiscal contribution of £2.5bn to the UK Treasury (The Migration Observatory, 2015). That is, they not only ‘pay’ for the services in kind and cash transfers that they receive, but also provide an additional £2.5bn in taxation as well.
The issue for our public services is a refusal from the Conservative government to invest the positive dividend that migrants provide to our public accounts. If the contributions of migrants were invested in our services they would not only expand in-line with demand, there would be excess funding that could improve and extend our services further.
It is not the fault of migrants that our public services are under strain; it is the refusal of so many Leavers, many of them Conservatives, to support our public services that leaves them bursting at the seams. This is the real hypocrisy with which we start the official campaign, and it is one that is likely to persist.