TTIP backlash: NHS needs protecting from US trade deal, says Labour

Private firms could take over the health service under TTIP,  claim critics

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The NHS must be explicitly excluded from the controversial trade deal being struck between the EU and the United States, Labour will demand today, as David Cameron and European leaders face a growing backlash against the plans.

The Prime Minister argues that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) could provide a £10bn boost for Britain and has promised to put “rocket boosters” behind efforts to clinch the deal.

He has praised the planned agreement as “good for Britain, good for jobs, good for growth and good for the British economy”.

However, more than 920,000 Europeans have signed a continent-wide petition against TTIP on the grounds it would cost large numbers of jobs, undermine consumer rights and environmental protection, as well as transferring power from elected governments to unelected international business corporations.

Similar objections are also being raised against a parallel agreement between the EU and Canada, which is nearing completion.

 

The surge in opposition across the EU to the huge trade deals, as well as in the US, coincides with a Commons debate today, in which Labour will demand a commitment for the health service to be excluded from the agreement.

Critics claim the deal would leave the NHS vulnerable to takeover by American healthcare giants and undermine the principle of a service free at the point of delivery.

Supporters of the Europe-wide petition, which has been championed by trade unions and environmental groups, had believed it would automatically trigger a detailed response from the European Commission once it reached the one million mark.

However, the Commission has announced it will not take the petition into account in negotiations with the US. Signatories are now threatening to take the Commission to the European Court of Justice over the issue.

The French and German governments have already raised fears over one of the most contentious parts of the TTIP proposals – agreements that would allow companies to sue countries that threaten their profits because of a change of policy.

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David Cameron has hit out at critics for raising fears that the health service is going to be "invaded" (Getty Images)

British opponents say the so-called “investor-state dispute settlement” (ISDS) powers could enable American healthcare firms to take legal action if a UK government restricted private involvement in the NHS.

Brussels has already suspended talks over the ISDS system because of gathering hostility across the EU.

Mr Cameron has hit out at critics for raising fears that the health service “is going to be invaded when it isn’t”. He suggested some people are signing the petition without understanding why the agreement would benefit Britain.

Labour MP Clive Efford, with the backing of the party’s leadership, will today call for the exemption of the NHS from the trade deal.

Andy Burnham, the shadow Health Secretary, claimed that signing TTIP could jeopardise the founding principles of the health service.

“It could give powerful private health interests the ability to break the inherent and essential strength of the NHS, which is to plan services in the public interest at a national level,” he told The Independent.

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Andy Burnham, the shadow Health Secretary, claimed that signing TTIP could jeopardise the founding principles of the health service (Getty Images)

He said Britain already had the right under the Lisbon Treaty to exempt its health service from the trade deal’s provisions and said Mr Cameron should invoke that power.

Ranged against TTIP: Who hates the deal

European unions: Argue that the TTIP deal will erode long-established workers’ rights. Opposition in the UK is being led by Unite, whose leader Len McCluskey has accused David Cameron of using it as a cover for privatising the health service.

Left-wing politicians: Socialist groups perceive TTIP as a further tipping of power away from democratically elected governments towards unaccountable corporations. In some countries, right-wingers have also joined opposition in protest over diminution of sovereign states’ powers.

Green groups: Insist that multinational corporations will ride roughshod over environmental laws. Natalie Bennett, the Greens’ leader in England and Wales, has condemned it as a “huge threat to our democracy and our sovereignty”.

Development groups: Say the agreement would force poorer countries in Africa and Asia to pursue trade policies suited to the west, hampering efforts to tackle poverty. This argument is advanced by War on Want and the World Development Movement.

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