Almost half of Britons do not believe Boris Johnson’s claim that NHS is ‘off the table’ in trade deals, poll finds

Exclusive: Leaked documents last year revealed US negotiators had made clear their desire for ‘total market access’ in any deal with the UK

Andrew Woodcock
Tuesday 08 September 2020 16:34 BST
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Loyalty towards the NHS, and fears for its future, has increased as a result of the coronavirus pandemic
Loyalty towards the NHS, and fears for its future, has increased as a result of the coronavirus pandemic

Almost half of British voters do not believe Boris Johnson’s claim that the NHS is “off the table” in trade deals, a new poll has found.

And the survey by pollsters Survation found that three-quarters (75 per cent) want specific protections for the NHS to be written into law in the Trade Bill, which has its second reading in the House of Lords today.

Tuesday sees the opening of the fourth round of trade talks between the UK and US, which has made no secret of its hopes of securing access for American companies to NHS markets, as well as tougher rules on patents to improve pharmaceutical companies’ profits from new drugs.

Leaked documents last year revealed that US negotiators had made clear their desire for “total market access” in any deal with the UK.

But the prime minister has repeatedly insisted that the NHS is “off the table” in talks, with aides insisting that the documents unveiled by former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn reflected Washington setting out its stall at the outset of negotiations.

However, today’s polling for the pro-public ownership campaign group We Own It suggests that Mr Johnson has failed to convince many voters that he will protect the health service.

Some 47 per cent of those questioned said they did not believe the PM’s assurance that the NHS was “off the table”, up nine percentage points since a similar poll in July. By contrast, just  30 per cent who were polled did believe him.

And 75 per cent said there should be specific protections for the NHS in the Trade Bill, against just 12 per cent who said there should not.

The We Own It campaign argues that the Bill needs specific protections to avoid opening up the health service to being charged more for drugs, enshrining access rights for American healthcare companies in an international treaty and “locking in” privatisation that would be difficult for a future government to reverse.

The group’s director Cat Hobbs said: “At a time when we’re relying on our health service more than ever before, it’s beyond shocking that the government would seek to pass legislation that could see our NHS be carved up and sold off.

“As this poll shows, the public don’t buy Boris Johnson’s reassurances, and three in four of us want to see concrete protections for our NHS.

“It’s time that the NHS being ‘off the table’ is enshrined into law. It’s absolutely vital that both the House of Lords and the House of Commons urgently amend the Trade Bill to protect our precious NHS. This is our last chance to ensure that our NHS is protected from the American healthcare industry.”

The poll came as a petition urging peers to insert clauses to protect the NHS into the bill reached 290,000 signatures.

When the bill passed through the House of Commons in July, the government voted down Labour amendments to ensure that health services are not on the table in future trade deals, despite a joint letter backing the change from more than 400 doctors and health professionals.

A Department for International Trade spokesperson said: “The NHS is not, and never will be, for sale to the private sector, whether overseas or domestic.

“The government is committed to the guiding principles of the NHS – that it is universal and free at the point of need.

“The Trade Bill does not deal with future FTAs. It deals solely with continuity trade agreements, none of which have ever affected our ability to keep public services public.”

- Survation questioned 1,009 people in the UK on 2 and 3 September.

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