Iain Duncan Smith has become the latest prominent Leave campaigner to backtrack on his campaign's much-publicised promise divert £350m per week paid to the EU to the NHS. Speaking on The Andrew Marr show this morning, the former work and pensions secretary denied he ever made the increasingly controversial claim at all.
The figure of £350m per week – £18.2bn ($24.9bn, $22.4bn) was one of the Leave campaign's most prominent talking points. The campaign repeatedly stated that Britain paid that amount the EU, with leading campaign figures, including Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and Michael Gove, all regularly mentioning that they would aim to divert the money into the NHS after Brexit.
The campaign promise was also featured on the side of the Leave campaign bus, saying: "We send the EU £350 million a week – let's fund our NHS instead."
However, Duncan Smith has now told Marr: "I never said that during the course of the election."
He insisted: "The £350m was an extrapolation of the £19.1bn [sic] – that's the total amount of money we gave across to the European Union. What we actually said was a significant amount of it would go to the NHS. It's essentially down to the government but I believe that is what was pledged and that's what should happen.
"There was talk about it going to the NHS but there are other bits and pieces like agriculture, which is part of the process. That is the divide up. It was never the total."
The former Conservative leader is not the only major leave campaign figure to row back on the pledge in the days since Britain's momentous decision to quit the EU. Liam Fox told Channel 4's Ciaran Jenkins that the £350m figure had been exaggerated and that the real amount was closer to £160m.
The Leave campaign's £350m a week figure was also debunked during the EU referendum campaign, using data from the Treasury. After a £5bn rebate, which was arranged by the Conservative Party under Margaret Thatcher, and £4bn in EU funding given to the UK are taken into account, the UK's contribution to the EU is about £173m a week (£7bn a year).
Similarly, Nigel Farage – who was not part of the official Vote Leave campaign – and the Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan have both attempted to deny that they ever made one of their central campaign promises. Labour politician Chuka Umunna has promised not to let them forget it.