Politics

General election 2019: Opposition warning over post-Brexit US trade deal

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Media captionCorbyn: “Our NHS will not be put up for sale to anybody”

Opposition leaders are using Donald Trump’s visit to the UK to raise concerns about the terms of a post-Brexit trade deal with the US.

Jeremy Corbyn said there would be “no deal” under a Labour government if the US insisted the NHS was included in trade talks, while the SNP reiterated its call for a “legal lock” to stop it.

But Boris Johnson has insisted the NHS is safe in the Conservatives’ hands.

In a press conference, Mr Trump denied having any interest in the NHS.

In June, the US president said it would form part of negotiations over a possible future trade deal, saying: “When you’re dealing in trade, everything is on the table.”

But speaking ahead of a Nato summit in the UK on Tuesday morning, he told reporters: “I don’t even know where that rumour started.

“If you handed [the NHS] to us on a silver platter, we wouldn’t want to have anything to do with it.”

The Lib Dems are also seeking protections for British farmers.

The party’s leader leader, Jo Swinson, is calling on Mr Johnson to use any discussions with Mr Trump to ensure UK farmers are not “undercut by low-standard imports from the US” after Brexit.

The US president arrived in the UK on Monday night for an event to mark the 70th anniversary of Nato.

The summit for the transatlantic military alliance comes at a crucial time in the general election campaign, with just over a week left until polling day on 12 December.

Mr Corbyn has repeatedly claimed that the NHS would be “up for sale” if the Conservatives win the election – something the Tory leader has dismissed as “nonsense”.

The Conservative manifesto explicitly states that neither the price paid for drugs nor NHS services will be at stake in post-Brexit trade discussions with the US.

But the Labour leader has written to Donald Trump – who he could meet at a reception at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday – setting out his demands, saying: “The British public need urgent clarity that our NHS is genuinely off the table.”

Image copyright AFP/Getty Images
Image caption Donald and Melania Trump arrived in the UK on Monday ahead of the Nato summit

At a campaign event last week, the Labour leader showed an unredacted report that gave details of meetings between US and UK officials.

The document shows the US is interested in discussing drug pricing – mainly extending patents that stop cheaper generic medicines being used – and refers to the US policy of making “total market access” a starting point in any trade talks.

In his letter, Mr Corbyn called on the president to exclude any references to pharmaceuticals from trade talks, drop the total market access demand, and to exclude patient data in any sharing deals.

Such guarantees, he said, “would go a long way to reassuring the British public that the US government will not be seeking total market access to the UK public services… and that the US government accepts that our NHS is not for sale in any form”.

‘Best interest of patients’

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab disputed the claims from Labour, saying Mr Corbyn was only raising the issue as “he wants to talk about anything else other than the fact [Labour] have got no plan for Brexit and no plan for the economy”.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Raab ruled out any privatisation of the NHS “under the Conservatives’ watch or this prime minister’s watch”.

And he said there was going to be “no dilution of our protection of consumers in this country” when it came to drug pricing.

Asked whether the NHS would be involved in any trade talks, Mr Raab said: “The reality is those decisions will be made by the United Kingdom in the best interest of patients and consumers at heart.”

Ahead of Mr Trump’s press conference, Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage called on the US president to challenge the “complete fib” that the Tories would “sell the NHS” to him in a trade deal.

He said Mr Trump should not endorse any candidate, but told BBC Breakfast: “Trump finds himself at the middle of this. He’s been accused by the Labour Party of wanting to buy the National Health Service.

“It isn’t true, I know it isn’t true, and I think it would be wholly appropriate for him to say that.”

Image copyright PA Media
Image caption Nicola Sturgeon wants a ‘legal lock’ to take the NHS off the table in trade talks

The SNP has reiterated calls for an NHS Protection Bill to create a “legal lock” against the NHS being included in trade deals.

The party’s leader, and First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon warned that Scotland’s NHS was also under threat from rising drug prices if health was part of a trade deal – despite health being a devolved issue.

Speaking ahead of a visit to Perth, she said: “With the Tories desperate for a trade deal with the US, we simply cannot trust them not to put our NHS on the line by signing up to the bargain basement conditions demanded by Trump.”

‘Low-standard risk’

The Lib Dems have also raised concerns about post-Brexit trade deals with the US.

Ms Swinson claims that the leaked documents from UK-US trade talks show American officials are pushing for Britain to allow greater use of chemicals in food production, such as chlorine-washing chicken and growth hormones in beef cattle.

She said: “Johnson’s desperation for a post-Brexit trade deal with Donald Trump means UK farmers risk being undercut by low-standard imports from the US.

“Boris Johnson must give a guarantee that our farmers and world-leading food standards will not be sacrificed on the altar of a Trump trade deal.”

Speaking on Monday to the BBC, Mr Corbyn said Mr Trump was welcome in the UK, adding: “I talk to anybody. The whole point of political life is the ability to engage with others particularly where you may not initially see eye to eye – but persuasion is possible.”

Mr Trump declined a meeting with the Labour leader during his state visit to the UK in July. As recently as last month, he said that Mr Corbyn as PM would be “bad for your country”.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2019-50638110

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