The Leave campaign is doing well at the moment: taking a lead in the polls and spooking the government no end. But is it getting rather carried away with its success? This morning on the Today programme Priti Patel gave a rather awkward interview about the campaign’s spending priorities in the event of a Brexit that made it sound rather as though Brexiteers were one party with a manifesto for domestic policy, rather than a cross-party campaign group pushing for one thing, which is for Britain to leave the European Union.
The Employment Minister told Mishal Husain that ‘we have said that we would spend British taxpayers’ money on a range of priorities including the NHS and in particular as well on VAT on fuel so those are the two areas – let me be clear about this – those are the two areas that we have said we would spend money on’.
Some Remain ministers who are growing nervous about the prospect of a Brexit actually happening are also starting to worry about the damage to the Conservative party of having to say that some of these spending pledges are not actually possible when it comes to it. This could be the case whether or not Britain votes to leave the European Union, as voters will have heard Tories making spending promises and will wonder why those promises aren’t being fulfilled in any scenario but the danger is of course particularly strong in the event of Brexit.
The policymaking process for Tories campaigning for Out in this referendum is not the same as a manifesto-writing process, and of course the party as a whole isn’t being consulted on these pledges, which are also being made by the Labourites on the Leave side as well as the Tories. So why are the Leave MPs even making them, and why was Patel even entertaining these questions this morning? She did tell the programme that ‘it is governments who make decisions on spending’, but continued to stick to the spending pledges throughout the interview when she could quite easily have said that Brexit would give any government control over a lot more money to spend as it pleases. The spending priorities that the minister named this morning might be attractive retail offers for voters now, but they could cause great trouble for her party in the coming years.