By Elizabeth Piper
LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Boris Johnson will announce a 1.8 billion pound ($2.2 billion) cash injection for Britain’s public health system on Monday, seeking to honor his Brexit pledges as he pushes through the country’s departure from the European Union.
Johnson, a figurehead for the “Leave” campaign in the 2016 referendum, has long been associated with a pledge, emblazoned on a bus, that Britain could spend 350 million pounds a week on the National Health Service (NHS) if the country left the EU.
That has long been criticized as fanciful by critics, but his swift move to fund the upgrade of facilities and equipment, and to push on with infrastructure projects is aimed at offering people a taste of what he sees as the benefits of Brexit.
But by ushering in a spending spree on health, education and policing after years of economic austerity, Johnson has fueled expectations of an early election — something his team says will not happen before Britain leaves the EU on Oct. 31, with or without a deal.
Many lawmakers are deeply opposed to a no-deal departure, and have pledged to try to stop any such attempt by Johnson’s government, setting up a standoff when parliament returns to work next month that could deepen the Brexit crisis.
“Today I’m delivering on this promise with a 1.8 billion pounds cash injection — meaning more beds, new wards, and extra life-saving equipment to ensure patients continue to receive world-class care,” Johnson said in a statement.
“It’s time to face up to this challenge and make sure the NHS receives the funds it needs, to continue being the best healthcare service in the world,” he said before visiting a hospital in Lincolnshire, eastern England, on Monday.
On Sunday, James Cleverly, chairman of Johnson’s Conservative Party, said the funding would come from “economic growth” — something the Bank of England has said is under threat from Brexit uncertainty and a slowing global economy.
Johnson has said he is willing to funnel more money into public services, using the previous government’s so-called “fiscal headroom”, which had been earmarked to support the economy through a no-deal scenario.
The new prime minister has also committed to putting money into policing, education and regional infrastructure projects, a spending spree that opposition lawmakers describe as evidence the government is on an election footing for later this year.
It is expected that the Labour Party will bring a motion of no confidence in the government after parliament returns to work in September to try to stop a no-deal Brexit, but Johnson’s top aide was reported as saying such a move would not work.
Dominic Cummings, one of the architects of the Leave campaign, was reported by the Sunday Telegraph as saying that Johnson could schedule a national election after the Oct. 31 Brexit deadline if he lost a vote of no confidence.
($1 = 0.8228 pounds)
(Reporting by Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Catherine Evans)