Theresa May’s Brexit ‘bribe’ backfires and even James Brokenshire can’t help

Written by David Singleton on 4 March 2019 in Diary

The communities secretary gave Labour MPs more reasons to be sceptical.

It’s safe to say that the £1.6bn ‘Stronger Towns Fund’ announced by Theresa May for mainly Leave-voting areas has not had the warm welcome that Downing Street might have hoped.

First, Labour MPs whose constituencies will benefit from the cash dismissed it as a “bribe” to persuade them to back the PM’s deal. Stoke-on-Trent Central MP Gareth Snell also noted that £212m for the whole of his region is "less than the total amount that Stoke city council has had to cut from its budget in the last nine years because of austerity. So it is not a big windfall that will make everything right".

Then James Brokenshire popped up on the Today programme and gave Labour MPs more reasons to be sceptical.

The communities secretary admitted that MPs would still see the cash regardless of whether they voted for May’s Brexit deal. Or as he put it: “This funding is there regardless of the outcome, but obviously we want to see a deal happening, we believe that is what is in the best interests of our country”.

He also said the £1.6bn was actually being spent over the next seven years – which makes the cash injection look even less impressive than it did in the headlines (and in the press release which did not say over what period the £1.6bn would be spent).

If Tory spinners felt that Brokenshire had not saved the day with his performance, it would not be the first time he failed to impress them. But it could have been worse. In his book, All Out War, Tim Shipman reports that members of the Conservative press team were a bit bemused by the way that the senior Tory was used in the last general election campaign.

"They put Brokenshire in a gym," one said. "The guy wakes up for breakfast in a suitand is the size of a pencil, and they wanted his walking around a gym with broadcast."

At the Number 10 morning lobby briefing, May’s spokesman insisted - with a straight face – that the £1.6bn for mainly Leave-voting towns was “absolutely not” intended to act as an inducement.

Which is probably just as well, since it doesn’t seem to have worked.



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