How Brexit Pushed Pause on Domestic Policy

April 4, 2019 Ilse Brenner


There is an alternate universe where perhaps David Cameron never chooses to have a referendum or the remain vote won. David Cameron would still be Prime Minister and politics in 2019 would have been devoted to the usual arguments. Instead, domestic policy in the UK has been in a state of purgatory that has, as MPs described it, “sucked the life” out of the British government.

A large majority of the UK believes that the Government’s struggle for a Brexit deal has become so all-encompassing that other critical issues have been forgotten about and ignored by ministers such as solving problems faced by the NHS, the housing market, and rising knife crime.

Since the 2016 referendum results, the Government has budgeted for a £4.2 billion Brexit contingency fund, including £2 billion recently added for no-deal planning. Whitehall departments have undertaken a major recruitment drive to hire an extra 8,000 staff members just to deal with Brexit alone.

The sums spent on no-deal Brexit planning could have been used for policing budgets which have been cut since 2010 with the number of police officers falling by 15%. Brexit funding could also have been used to reverse cuts to police services which, Labour has argued, would decrease the rate of knife crime.

Alternatively, the funds could have been used for the welfare budget, including pensions – the largest single item of government expenditure. Chancellor Philip Hammond has already suggested funds needed for new technology and extra infrastructure at borders could divert even more funds from the NHS and education. If it weren’t for Brexit it might be possible that No 10, Treasury, and the Health Department would currently be working together in trying to solve these social care problems.

Overall, to fix the housing situation, NHS, and knife crime, the Government would need the political and policy-making energies that are currently being devoted to Brexit, the question over the Irish Border, and regulatory alignment.

Even after Britain has left the EU, the UK will still be in a state of limbo known as the transition period, frantically trying to negotiate future trading relationships. At the end, when the UK emerges into the new world of Brexit, domestic policies are likely to be in a worse state than prior. The Government holds the unenviable responsibility of envisioning a UK post-Brexit and “pressing play” to move the country forward.