British Prime Minister Theresa May is desperate to get parliamentary approval for her Brexit deal, but there is currently no majority of votes for it—particularly as the opposition Labour Party has now thrown its weight behind a second referendum on the matter.
So, how to get those votes and avoid a no-deal Brexit? In what many have characterized as outright bribery, May’s Conservative government has suddenly announced fresh funding for deprived towns in England’s North and the Midlands—Labour’s heartlands, and areas that largely voted to leave the EU in the 2016 referendum.
The “Stronger Towns” fund is worth £1.6 billion ($2.1 billion,) most of which is earmarked for the North and Midlands. “Communities across the country voted for Brexit as an expression of their desire to see change–that must be a change for the better, with more opportunity and greater control,” May said in a statement. “These towns have a glorious heritage, huge potential and, with the right help, a bright future ahead of them.”
Labour’s shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, was quick to brand the move a “desperate bribe,” and pointed out that many of the towns in question are struggling because of the Conservatives’ almost decade-long austerity policy.
May’s gambit may prove to be counterproductive, as it has drawn criticism from Labour lawmakers who were reportedly considering breaking ranks with their party and backing the prime minister’s Brexit deal.
For example, Lisa Nandy, a Labour MP who represents Wigan on the outskirts of Manchester, tweeted: “This Stronger Towns announcement just keeps getting worse. Government now seems to be saying it’s spread over 7 years amounting to just £40m a year for ALL the North West’s towns. To put it in context in Wigan alone we’ve had cuts of £134m since 2010 with more in the pipeline”
As Tom Kibasi, the director of the progressive IPPR think tank, noted, the cash infusion would amount to less than £10 per person per year.
Meanwhile, Communities Secretary James Brokenshire denied the objective was to bribe lawmakers, saying: “This funding is there regardless of the outcome. Obviously we want to see a deal happening. But… there is no conditionality in that sense.”