Theresa May accused of ‘bribing MPs’ with £1.6bn handout fund

Theresa May is being accused of “bribing MPs” in “a desperate measure to buy votes” as she launches a £1.6bn fund for pro-Brexit towns.

The new “Stronger Towns Fund”, with cash handouts for constituencies that voted Leave, is being unveiled just days before MPs are due to vote again on the prime minister’s deal.

The government claims it will boost growth and give communities a greater say in their future after Brexit and will be targeted at less prosperous parts of the country.

But opponents claim the handouts are aimed at persuading Labour MPs representing constituencies that voted Leave in the EU referendum to vote for the PM’s deal next week.

According to ministers, the fund will be used to create new jobs, help train local people and boost economic activity – with communities having a say on how the money is spent.

“For too long in our country prosperity has been unfairly spread,” said the PM. “Our economy has worked well for some places but we want it to work for all communities.

“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.

“These towns have a glorious heritage, huge potential and, with the right help, a bright future ahead of them.”

But the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, said: “This towns fund smacks of desperation from a government reduced to bribing MPs to vote for their damaging flagship Brexit legislation.

“The reason our towns are struggling is because of a decade of cuts, including to council funding and a failure to invest in businesses and our communities.

“Labour pledged in 2017 that we will establish a network of regional development banks that will be dedicated to delivering the finance that our small businesses co-operatives and innovative projects need across the whole country.

“No Brexit bribery. Stable investment where it’s most needed.”

And ex-Tory Anna Soubry of The Independent Group of MPs said: “Investment in skills and training is always welcome but we need to go behind this new fund and see it for what it is – a desperate measure to buy votes, and sadly this government has a strong record on that score.

“The support of the DUP was secured with a £1bn bung-for-votes to prop up the government after it lost its majority.

“Now Theresa May is so desperate to get votes for her bad withdrawal agreement she is relying on the same old trick.

“Voters will not be fooled – especially those in areas which voted Leave and are now demanding a People’s Vote because they know, whichever way you do it, Brexit will harm their futures.

“The better way is to recognise the best deal is the one we have with the European Union and let the people have their final say on Brexit.”

Under the new scheme, £583m will go to towns across the North and £322m to the Midlands. Another £600m will be available through a bidding process to communities in any part of the country.

The government says it will also seek to ensure towns across Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will benefit from the new funding.

Communities secretary James Brokenshire said: “We have listened to people who are concerned by momentous changes to their communities and I am determined to provide the support they need to create a more prosperous future beyond Brexit.”

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