Beware the NHS myths from Gove and the Brexit Bunch

Tonight Michael Gove will be on TV making the case for Britain leaving the EU.

Watching him might not be your idea of Friday night entertainment (it certainly isn’t for me), but it’s vital that we pay attention to what he says and scrutinise his spin.

Because he’s trying to sell you the dangerous myths of the Vote Leave campaign.

Gove and his merry band of Brexiteers have spent the past few weeks relentlessly claiming that if Britain leave the EU, the NHS will benefit to the tune of hundreds of millions each week. So proud are they of this claim that it’s plastered on the front of leaflets landing on doormats across the country.

But let me assure you – as the general secretary of Britain’s biggest health union, representing hundreds of thousands of nurses and other health staff in every hospital in the country – these claims are a dangerous lie.

Because if you vote for Brexit on 23 June in the hope of a better NHS, what you’ll really be voting for is a weaker, poorer, more overstretched National Health Service.

The facts on this are clearer everyday – from the overwhelming balance of opinion among economists and policy makers who are saying our economy will be weaker , through to our own analysis which shows clearly that the recruitment and retention difficulties being faced by the NHS will multiply, stretching services to breaking point.

We can’t afford to take that risk.

That’s one reason why – despite our misgivings about the EU – UNISON is encouraging our members to vote Remain. Our members have clearly told us they feel we’re better off inside Europe fighting for change than we are sitting on the sidelines.

Fight is an apt word for our members, because every right they have at work, pound in their pocket and service they provide has been fought for, both over recent decades and in recent years as public servants have faced the brunt of the government’s austerity agenda.

So it’s particularly galling to see how Vote Leave and their loudest cheerleaders are attempting to wrap themselves in our public services after years of torching them.

The likes of Michael Gove and Boris Johnson were rampant cheerleaders for eye-watering austerity, and yet now they masquerade as the friend of public servant and public service user. Their nauseating cynicism insults the intelligence of the British people as they pretend to care about working people’s interests whilst cheerleading for a government that has cut hundreds of thousands of public sector jobs.

In reality they’re putting peoples jobs and lives on the chopping block whilst peddling false promises about the delights of life outside the EU for their own political benefit.

Meanwhile, many of the key campaigners trying to drag Britain out of Europe were leading lights in the Taxpayers’ Alliance – an organisation that is no friend of working people, public services or perhaps even government spending altogether.

That leads us to one of two conclusions – either Gove, Johnson and their friends have had a sudden damascene conversion to higher public spending on our schools, hospitals and other public services, or they’re just saying whatever they think the British people need to hear in order to win this campaign.

Like so many people, I’m sick of being lectured and lied to by a succession of Conservative politicians who are taking us for fools. We are not all “in it together” when the axe falls on the poorest in society. The government’s “long term economic plan” is just an agenda for cuts and privatisation on an epic scale. And if we leave Europe there won’t be more money for the NHS, but less.

As the economy stutters, more people lose their jobs, tax receipts fall and services are cut, do you trust Michael Gove and Boris Johnson to defend our health service and fund it properly?

I know I don’t.

That’s just one reason why I will be spending the coming weeks making the case for Britain to stay in Europe to and on behalf of UNISON’s 1.3 million members. At a time of economic and political upheaval, the last thing we should be doing is taking an unnecessary risk with our already overstretched public services.

As Jeremy Corbyn rightly argued yesterday, staying in Europe and accepting the status quo isn’t an option. But we can only fight for a better deal in Europe by staying at the table and winning the arguments. That’s what trade unionists do every single day – and that’s why we know that staying in Europe is vital for protecting our public services, no matter what myths might be peddled by Gove and the rest of the Brexit bunch in the weeks ahead.

This piece was first published by the Daily Mirror