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Will Boris cause the break-up of the United Kingdom?

In the Western Mail this morning, Martin Shipton reflects on Boris Johnson’s call for London to be given more funding. The London mayor has argued that it is no longer sustainable for the UK capital to be subsidising the rest of the UK, at the rate of £2,500 per head:

At present cash is distributed to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland by means of the Barnett Formula, in place as a supposedly temporary measure since the late 1970s. Changes are made in allocations depending on the relative populations of the countries, with spending on devolved policy areas like health in England triggering proportionate funding increases in the three Celtic nations.

Johnson, however, isn’t satisfied by that. Instead he wants to increase the existing inequality in the UK by grabbing the entire amount of revenue generated in London. In putting forward such an argument, he is effectively advocating the creation of an even wealthier city state, leaving the rest of the UK to fend for itself.

Such an outcome would surely not be sustainable. It would condemn the great majority of the citizens of the UK to a condition of prolonged penury. And it would threaten the fundamental basis on which post-war Britain was built: that the strong have a duty to protect the weak via the Welfare State.

For if London is to keep all the revenue it raises and redistribution on a national and regional basis will therefore end, the logic is that welfare payments would also need to be funded locally. For Wales, which has a relatively low tax base and which doesn’t have enough revenue to support the welfare payments due to its residents, such an outcome would be disastrous.

The fact that Boris Johnson is able to make such a proposal without being howled down by his fellow Unionists in the Conservative Party indicates the fragility of current funding arrangements, which themselves are not founded on social justice.

Instead of wringing their hands at Johnson’s effrontery, Welsh politicians should redouble their efforts in making the case for fair funding based on the allocation of resources in accordance with need. To enhance the chance of success, the campaign needs to be broadened to include English regions which, like Wales, are also underfunded.

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