Thank you to everyone who has recently contacted me about trade agreements and the NHS.
I appreciate your concerns on this issue. I am not opposed in principle to free trade agreements, including a trade deal with the US. As the global economy seeks to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, we will need to agree new trade deals that will benefit UK workers and businesses of all sizes. However, these trade deals must serve our interests in the long term and protect our existing rights and standards. Crucially, they must not threaten our health service.
The US Government’s negotiating objectives for a trade deal with the UK, published in February 2019, include UK commitments to provide access to service markets, with only “the narrowest possible exceptions with the least possible impact on US firms”. These exceptions, it says, should be “on a negative list basis” – where all services are included unless explicitly excluded. In addition, the US says it will seek to ensure drug price regulations “provide full market access for US products.”
The UK Government says the NHS and the price it pays for drugs will not be on the table in trade negotiations with the US. However, I worry that the Government’s urgent desire for any sort of deal could lead to an agreement designed for the benefit of the major corporations behind the American healthcare industry.
We must never let our health service be up for grabs in any trade negotiation. We must ensure that all parts of the NHS are fully protected under any international trade deals. For the Government to reassure NHS patients that this will be the case, it needs to make clear that it will ensure explicit wording rules out liberalisation measures from applying to our NHS. Importantly, it also needs to provide proper procedures for parliamentary consultation, scrutiny, debate and approval of future international trade agreements, so we can attempt to hold it to account on this. I am disappointed that its current Trade Bill does not do this, and I therefore opposed it at Second Reading.