Sunday Show Round-Up: Asteroids, Dividends And A Crisis of Conscience

Kate Forrester

Politics fans may be down one Sunday morning programme following Robert Peston’s move to a Wednesday night slot, but this weekend was certainly not a quiet one in terms of news. 

Theresa May’s big plan for the NHS is on the front of every paper (top lines: funding for the health service will increase by 3.4% annually for the next five years, experts say it needed at least 4%, Labour say the government’s plans are not properly costed).

Former justice minister Philip Lee, who fell on his sword over Brexit earlier this week, talked in-depth about his decision and shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry confirmed she still thinks Donald Trump is awful. 

NHS Funding

The Prime Minister presented the weekend’s biggest talking point in a pre-recorded interview with Andrew Marr, setting out in detail her government’s plans to bolster an under-pressure health service. 

The PM promised there would be even more money than was floated by Vote Leave on its infamous Brexit bus.

“Some people may remember seeing a figure on the side of a bus a while back of £350 million a week in cash,” she said. 

“Well, I can tell you what I am announcing will mean that in 2023-24, there will be about £600 million a week in cash, more in cash, going into the NHS.”

She said the total would amount to an annual increase of 3.4% for the next five years - but many experts believe the health service needs a budget boost of at least 4% to stay properly afloat. 

Labour frontbenchers, including Emily Thornberry, shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth and shadow chancellor John McDonnell were out in force to point out that the government’s plans are not properly costed (they will be paid for partially through tax rises which will not be set out until the Autumn Budget).

“The Chancellor will set out in due course before the spending review, he’ll set out how the whole package of funding that we’ll be putting, but it is right, I think, that we say to people that because the NHS is so important to us that we do look at asking for the country to contribute more, but in a fair and balanced way,” the PM said.

“I think that’s important. So yes, 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.”

Critics were also quick to jump on the fact that May had failed to mention social care in her big announcement - a sector that is facing a shortfall of billions, which will have a huge knock-on effect on the NHS. 

Government proposals do beat Labour’s promise of 2% extra for the health service every year, but Jeremy Corbyn’s party insisted their plan was the only financially robust one. 

The Prime Minister also got it in the neck from one of her own backbenchers, health select committee chair Sarah Wollaston, who said the idea of a ‘Brexit dividend’ was “tosh”.

It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out further next week. 

McDonnell told the BBC’s John Pienaar: “Can you imagine if I came forward with this? There would be accusations of magic money trees - it’s a magic money forest that has come out this morning.”

The shadow chancellor suggested the announcement could even be “a pre-election gimmick”.

Just don’t tell Brenda from Bristol.

Brexit

Tory Remainer Philip Lee was the star attraction on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday, where he set out his reasons for resigning from his ministerial role.

Despite a sizeable group of Conservative rebels being talked down from rebelling against the government on its flagship EU Withdrawal Bill at the 11th hour, Lee said he still believed he had made a stand on what he “thought was right”.

Asked if he thought he had betrayed Theresa May, the Bracknell MP said: “I have known her for more than 20 years, but ultimately I had to put my country before that friendship, and I am comfortable with the decision I made.”

On Marr, the PM dismissed claims that Cabinet divisions are making Brexit negotiations with the EU harder.

When asked what message she had for Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson after he was recorded expressing concern the UK could end up remaining in orbit around the EU and not fully free to make trade deals, she said: “The message is Government has agreed that we will have an independent trade policy.

“We will be free to negotiate those trade deals around the rest of the world.”

Rebel-in-chief Dominic Grieve, who was less than impressed with last-minute changes to a compromise agreement struck with Number 10 earlier this week, made it clear on the BBC’s Sunday Politics that he still backs the PM. 

“We need a motion of no-confidence like a hole in the head,” he said.

Meanwhile, Emily Thornberry was asked to explain what she meant when she described May’s Brexit deal as “blah, blah, blah”.

“You shouldn’t make a joke in politics,” the shadow foreign secretary said.

Staunch Brexiteer Suella Braverman also popped up to insisted that a no-deal Brexit scenario is better than a bad deal. 

“The prime minister had made clear that that is an aspect of our negotiating strategy,” she told Ridge.

Braverman also insisted there would indeed be a Brexit dividend, telling John Pienaar: “Well we do send as you say billions of pounds to the EU because of our membership of the EU and once we leave the European Union that’s going to come to an end. So there will be more money that our government will be able to spend as it decides.”

Donald Trump

Emily Thornberry - the spokesperson for foreign affairs for Her Majesty’s Official Opposition, let me remind you - confirmed she still thinks Donald Trump is “an asteroid of awfulness”.

But she told Andrew Marr the Labour Party would still be willing to meet the US President when he visits the UK next month.

“We do not share values with Donald Trump when he wants to walk away from the Paris climate change agreement, when he wants to tear up the Iran nuclear deal,” Thornberry said.

“I am quite happy to say that openly, and I will say that to his face.  I have no problem with that and we must be clear about that.  In my view, when you have a bully like that, you have to stand up to them and be clear about what you disagree on.”

Should be fun.

Still not had enough politics for one day? Check out Owen Bennett’s weekly Brexit Briefing to get the lowdown on this week’s to-ing and fro-ing.

Related...