EXCL Tom Watson reports Theresa May to advertising watchdog over 'Brexit dividend' claim

Posted On: 
18th June 2018

Theresa May has been reported to the Advertising Standards Agency over claims that a huge cash boost for the NHS will be partly funded by a "Brexit dividend".

Theresa May has promised billions more for the NHS.
Credit: 
PA Images

Labour deputy leader Tom Watson said the claim was "at best misleading and at worst a complete myth" and demanded the ASA take action.

The Prime Minister has said the health service will be handed an extra £20bn a year by 2023 - an increase of 3.4%.

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She has admitted that taxes will have to rise in order to cover some of the huge bill, but insisted that cash will also come from money saved from no longer paying into the EU.

A graphic posted on Mrs May's official Number 10 Twitter account went even further, declaring: "Our long-term plan for the NHS. Funded by the Brexit dividend with us as a country contributing a bit more."

Paul Johnson of the Institute for Fiscal Studies has dismissed the suggestion Britain will be automatically richer after leaving the EU, telling the BBC: "There isn’t a Brexit dividend."

But doubling down on the claim today, the Prime Minister said: "We are not going to be sending the vast amount of money every year to the EU that we spend at the moment on the EU as a member of the EU,” she explained.

"That money will be coming back. We will be spending it on our priorities and the NHS is our number one priority."

In his letter to ASA chief executive Guy Parker, Shadow Culture Secretary Mr Watson said: "The ASA website states clearly that ‘local authorities, government and other public bodies should be aware that their ad campaigns, like those of commercial companies, are subject to the rules in the Advertising Codes'.

"The thread of graphics posted by the UK Prime Minister Twitter account was an ad campaign promoting the Government’s policy to millions of followers. The website goes on to say ‘the ASA will intervene if an ad by a public body crosses the line, whether that’s through being harmful, offensive or misleading… government departments, local authorities and other public bodies should also ensure that their ads are not misleading and that objective claims are supported by robust evidence'.

"Unfortunately, the ‘Brexit dividend’ is widely regarded as at best misleading and at worst a complete myth."

He added: "Given the importance of the NHS to the millions of people who follow government advertising on the UK Prime Minister twitter feed, I request that you investigate whether the advertising material breaches ASA policy that advertising has to be supported by the ‘robust evidence."

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has also attacked the NHS spending announcement.

He said: "Can you imagine if I came forward like this? There would be accusations of magic money trees. This is a magic money forest that's come out."