Why are we talking about this now?
Negotiations over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership have been turbocharged by US President Barack Obama’s visit to Europe.
Obama is trying to push through the biggest transatlantic trade deal in history before the end of his time in the White House.
Opponents of the deal say that TTIP will destroy the NHS as we know it by making the UK Government powerless to stop privatisation, or at least make it impossible to reverse privatisation.
Are they right?
Unite the Union cites legal advice from Michael Bowsher QC, a former chair of the Bar Council’s EU law committee, that TTIP will “pose a real and serious risk to the future ability of the [UK Government] to regulate the NHS”.
EU has said that it will include a “tried-and-tested system” to make sure that TTIP doesn’t affect EU governments’ freedoms to organise public services like the NHS.
Because TTIP negotiations are conducted in secret, there’s no way of knowing what that system will look like until the agreement is signed.
But trade deals like this one are designed to remove barriers to trade. During his visit, Obama called them “regulatory and bureaucratic irritants and blockages to trade”.
Giving free access to private companies means abolishing state-run services like the NHS, unless the NHS is removed from the treaty altogether.
Could the NHS be removed from the treaty?
Opponents of the deal are campaigning for the NHS to be exempt from TTIP altogether.
Michael Bowsher QC said in his legal advice: “The solution to the problems which TTIP poses to the NHS… is for the NHS to be excluded from the agreement, by way of a blanket exception contained within the main text of TTIP.”
Would an exemption be enough?
The EU has said that its existing draft treaty with Canada would be a model for the TTIP deal. That includes an exemption for “health services” that are provided by the government.
But what that actually covers is unclear. IT services and non-health services might not be covered by the term health services.
In the event of a dispute, any cases arising from this would be referred to international courts called the Investor-State Dispute Settlement, which give companies special rights to sue governments if a trade treaty has been breached.
If the ISDS ruled that the company had been subject to “unlawful nationalisation”, they would have a right to seek compensation.
When will we know for sure?
We won’t really know the implications of TTIP on the NHS until the deal is signed.
All EU member countries are expected to have a say on whether the agreement passes, which would in theory mean the UK government would be able to delay it.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies