Theresa May accused of Brexit 'bribe' over £1.6bn funding boost for hard-up towns that voted Leave
Theresa May has been accused of "bribing MPs" to back her Brexit deal as she unveiled a £1.6bn cash boost aimed at deprived English regions that voted to leave the EU.
The Prime Minister said prosperity had been "unfairly spread" across the country and voters had plumped for Brexit "as an expression of their desire to see change".
It comes after reports that Downing Street hoped to woo Labour voters into supporting the Brexit deal in parliament in exchange for much-needed funding in their seats.
Some £583m will go to towns across the north while another £322m will go to the Midlands. Both areas voted heavily to quit the EU at the 2016 referendum.
Mrs May said: "For too long in our country prosperity has been unfairly spread. Our economy has worked well for some places but we want it to work for all communities.
"Communities across the country voted for Brexit as an expression of their desire to see change – that must be a change for the better, with more opportunity and greater control.
"These towns have a glorious heritage, huge potential and, with the right help, a bright future ahead of them."
Communities Secretary James Brokenshire added: "We have listened to people who are concerned by momentous changes to their communities and I am determined to provide the support they need to create a more prosperous future beyond Brexit."
But Labour's John McDonnell accused Mrs May of "Brexit bribery".
A major row exploded in the Labour party last month after it emerged the PM had been approaching MPs in hard-up areas with new funding settlements for their constituencies in exchange for support for her Brexit deal.
The Shadow Chancellor said: "This towns fund smacks of desperation from a government reduced to bribing MPs to vote for their damaging flagship Brexit legislation.
"The reason our towns are struggling is because of a decade of cuts, including to council funding and a failure to invest in businesses and our communities.
"Labour pledged in 2017 that we will establish a network of regional development banks that will be dedicated to delivering the finance that our small businesses co-operatives and innovative projects need across the whole country. No Brexit bribery, stable investment where it’s most needed."
The biggest chunk of the so-called Stronger Towns Fund will go to the North West (£281m) and the West Midlands (£212m), followed by Yorkshire and the Humber £197m) and the East Midlands (110m).
It will be used to create new jobs, help train local people and boost economic activity - with communities having a say on how the money is spent, the Government said.
The Government will call on communities to draw up plans for their towns that will boost growth and create employment opportunities.
A further £600m will be available to other parts of the country through a bidding process, and the Government has promised towns across Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will also benefit.
'DROP IN THE OCEAN'
But a spokesperson for the People's Vote campaign said: “This is a drop in the ocean compared to what we now know will be lost if the Prime Minister’s Brexit plan goes ahead.
"We don’t even know where this money is coming from and it is more than likely it simple represents a reallocation of funding that would have gone to communities across the country in any case."
They added: “Labour MPs tempted to back the Government’s deal should pay heed to John McDonnell’s warning this morning that if they do, they will not be forgiven for voting to threaten jobs and damage communities.”
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable welcomed the new investment boost - but warned it would not go far enough to boost struggling areas.
"There should be recognition that part of the reason people voted Leave was because communities in town across the UK felt left behind and action to change that should be welcomed," he said.
“However large this sum may be it is not equal to the amount that will be needed. There have been a whole variety of attempts to channel funding in to depressed areas and latterly during the coalition the Regional Growth Fund, championed by the Liberal Democrats, used funds alongside business investment.
“For real change we will need more investment in rail, housing and internet connectivity. Today's announcement is a modest contribution.”