Thank you to everyone who has contacted me regarding the 38 Degrees campaign on future free trade agreements and the National Health Service (NHS). I agree that it is a very important issue, and I am happy to share my concerns.
I support free trade agreements that will help grow our export base across all regions of the UK and elevate rights and standards internationally. However, they must not undermine our right to regulate in the public interest or put our public services at risk. The British public does not want our health service to be bargained away as part of a trade deal.
The Government has said protecting the right to regulate and public services will be of the utmost importance in its trade negotiations. However, I believe there remain several reasons to be concerned on this issue. For example, one of the priority partners the Government is seeking a trade agreement with is the US. Yet in its negotiating objectives published in February, the US made clear it would seek measures that could affect the ability of the UK to control the prices paid for medicines by the NHS and would push for UK commitments to open our services to foreign suppliers, with only “the narrowest possible exceptions with the least impact on US firms.”
This last point is particularly worrying, since the Government has yet to make clear whether its planned trade agreements will use a “negative list” approach to services liberalisation and Government procurement. This would mean that any service sector not specifically excluded from liberalisation in the trade agreement, including new sectors that come into existence, would automatically be liberalised, no matter what the public policy consequences. I believe this would be extremely dangerous. The Government should rule out agreeing to a single clause of a single trade deal that could threaten the NHS.
This is a worrying scenario as the NHS is a service which should be protected at all costs and not one that is used as weight within a trade deal. In 2017 I stood on a manifesto which included a commitment to reverse the privatisation of our NHS and return our health service to expert public control. It also committed to ensuring all future trade deals safeguard the right to regulate in the public interest and to protect public services and expressed opposition to parallel investor-state dispute systems for multinational corporations.
Thank you once again to everyone who has contacted me regarding this issue. I can assure you that my labour colleagues and I will continue to press the government strongly on this issue at every opportunity.