Jeremy Hunt has admitted he “can’t deliver” the extra £350m a week promised for the NHS by Brexit campaigners.
The Health Secretary also said it would be a “disaster” for the health service if a favourable agreement cannot be achieved in the already-bitter exit talks.
“The jobs that so many people depend on, whose taxes pay for the NHS. If we get a bad Brexit outcome, that would be disaster for the NHS,” he said
On the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme, the Health Secretary was asked why the Conservatives were not promising the now-notorious extra £350m pledged during the Brexit referendum.
He insisted voters wanted a “credible promise”, arguing the Tories had already pumped in an extra £6.5bn “over the last few years”.
“We are not going to promise stuff that we can’t deliver,” Mr Hunt added.
The Liberal Democrats seized on the comments, health spokesman Norman Lamb saying: “Jeremy Hunt has confirmed that a bad Brexit deal will be a disaster for the NHS – the Liberal Democrats have been saying this all along.
“The NHS is already in crisis and Theresa May’s push for a hard Brexit will only make things worse.”
Labour, meanwhile, pointed to Mr Hunt agreeing that the NHS’s long failure to hit its target to see 95 per cent of A&E patients within four hours was “not acceptable”.
“We haven’t hit it for more than two years, it’s not acceptable,” the Health Secretary conceded.
He insisted the Conservatives had “a plan to get back to that standard”, adding: “We are actually seeing, within that crucial four-hour standard, more than 2,000 people every single day.”
But Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, said: “We’ve now had an admission of failure straight from the horse’s mouth.
“This shameful statistic is symptomatic of the crisis that the Tories have left our NHS in. Britain cannot afford another five years of Tory failure.”
But Mr Hunt said Theresa May was “battling for Britain” to secure the best Brexit outcome for public services, against EU leaders who want the UK to fail.
“We’ve got 27 countries lined up against us, some of them appear to think that for the EU to survive Britain must fail,” he claimed.
“There is something very different about this election because, in a normal election, you are choosing a prime minister for the next five years, but this time we are choosing a prime minister who will do the Brexit negotiations that will last for generations.”
It was “very plain for everyone to see” how Brussels was seeking to influence the election, following the leaks about the difficult dinner in Downing Street attended by European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.
“They didn’t have to leak these reports to newspapers of dinners that happened in the middle of an election campaign,” Mr Hunt said. “It is the wrong approach to negotiations.”
He added: “The answer is very clear that they are trying to leak reports that undermine Theresa May’s position.”
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