General election 2019: Corbyn says no US trade deal unless NHS is excluded


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Media captionCorbyn: NHS would not be part of US trade deal

Jeremy Corbyn has said there would be “no deal” with the US under a Labour government, if it insisted the NHS was included in post-Brexit trade talks.

The Labour leader has written to Donald Trump setting out his demands, as the US president arrived in the UK for a Nato summit.

He said: “The British public need urgent clarity that our NHS is genuinely off the table.”

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

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.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said there was going to be “no dilution of our protection of consumers in this country” when it came to drug pricing.

Mr Trump’s arrival in the UK, for an event to mark the 70th anniversary of 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.

Food production

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson is calling on Mr Johnson to use discussions with Mr Trump on the sidelines of the Nato summit to seek protections for British farmers and consumers.

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.”

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Donald Trump is in the UK or three days for a Nato summit

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”.

At a campaign event last week, the Labour leader brandished an unredacted report that gave details of meetings between US and UK officials, where the general requirements of a trade deal between the two nations after the UK leaves the EU were discussed.

It included confirmation of a round of meetings on patented medicines, where officials explained how drugs were approved for use on the NHS and described a US request for “total market access” to UK public services as a “baseline” for an agreement.

Mr Corbyn said this was evidence that US drugs firms were pushing for patents on their most popular drugs to be extended, thereby making it impossible for competitors elsewhere to produce cheaper, generic versions.

Speaking at an election rally on Monday evening, Mr Corbyn said the disclosures were “frightening”.

“My simple message to Boris Johnson and Donald Trump is that the NHS is not for sale,” he said.

But Mr Raab disputed the claims, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that 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”.

He added: “Obviously we want the cheapest and highest quality coming into the NHS. There is going to be no dilution of our position on that whatsoever.”

The foreign secretary ruled out any privatisation of the NHS “under the Conservatives’ watch or this prime minister’s watch”.

But 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.”

‘Market access’

The Labour leader has written to the US president saying any increase in the cost of NHS drugs as a result of US trade deal would be “unacceptable” to the British public.

He called on the US president, who he could meet at a reception at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday, to revise his negotiating objectives to accept the role of UK watchdogs in deciding the cost-effectiveness of medicines and to rule out including any patient data in any deal.

Mr Corbyn is also pressing the US to rule out any dispute settlement mechanism by which the UK government could be sued for protecting public services – something he said US firms were already doing elsewhere.

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”.

Health is a devolved issue – and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has warned that Scotland’s NHS was also under threat from rising drug prices if health was part of a trade deal.

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Nicola Sturgeon claims Scotland’s NHS is also ‘on the line’

Speaking ahead of a visit to Perth, the SNP leader 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.”

She repeated her call for the government to back the SNP’s plan for an NHS Protection Bill, which she says “would create a legal lock against our NHS being included in trade deals”.

Speaking on Monday to the BBC, Mr Corbyn said Mr Trump was welcome in the UK and he would be happy to engage with him.

“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.”

But he said he would make clear the NHS and other public services, such as the care sector, could not form part of any future discussions “in any circumstances”. Asked what would happen if the US insisted on their inclusion, he replied “then there will be no deal”.

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”.

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