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May pledges £20 billion extra for healthcare post-Brexit

The announcement comes after a row in parliament over Brexit highlighted the fragility of Theresa May’s minority government.

FILE: British Prime Minister Theresa May. Picture: @TheresaMayOfficial/Facebook.com.

LONDON - British Prime Minister Theresa May pledged on Sunday to increase funding for the National Health Service (NHS) by £20 billion after Brexit, partly from tax hikes and partly from money that will no longer be going to the European Union.

The announcement of more cash for the country’s healthcare system, a regular issue at national elections, comes after a row in parliament over Brexit highlighted the fragility of May’s minority government.

“By the end of five years, in 2023/24, the NHS will be getting £20 billion more in real terms that year, than it is today,” May said in a pre-recorded interview for LBC Radio broadcast on Sunday.

“We take the advantage that we’ve got of the money we’re no longer sending to the European Union, but also in putting the amount of money we want to put into the NHS for the future, I think we do have to look at contributing more.”

Asked about the tax increase, May said her finance minister would set out plans before a government spending review expected next year. She said the increased contribution from taxpayers would be done in a “fair and balanced” way.

The announcement is timed to mark the 70th anniversary of the NHS, which delivers free access to care for everyone living in Britain. It aims to foster unity in the government and the country after two years of bitter divisions over Brexit.

It was also tailored to send a positive message to the 48% of Britons who in 2016 wanted to remain in the EU - many of whom are still unconvinced about Brexit as the 29 March 2019 exit date approaches.

During the 2016 referendum campaign on EU membership, the pro-Brexit camp claimed that Britain was sending £350 million a week to the EU and should spend that money on the NHS instead.

The claim was controversial because the figure did not take into account Britain’s sizeable rebate or the payments that were flowing back from the EU to Britain, so it was widely seen as overstating Britain’s contribution to the bloc.

Despite leaving, Britain will continue to make payments to the EU over several decades to settle an exit bill of around £39 billion.

In her interview, May - who campaigned against Brexit in 2016 and has been under pressure from hardline Brexiteers ever since to prove her conversion to the cause - drew attention to the fact that her funding announcement exceeded that £350 million-per-week figure.

Twenty billion pounds annually is approximately £384 million per week.

Jeremy Hunt, the health minister, who also campaigned for Britain to remain in the EU, was quoted by the Sunday Telegraph as saying that the new pledge “can now unite us all.”

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