Brexit: US pushed for ‘full market access’ to services including NHS in UK trade deal, leaked documents reveal

Jeremy Corbyn accuses Boris Johnson of planning to ‘sell out the NHS’ to big pharma

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Wednesday 27 November 2019 19:20 GMT
Jeremy Corbyn says he has documents which 'confirm' under Boris Johnson 'the NHS is on the table and will be up for sale' to the US

US negotiators pushed for “full market access” to services including the NHS in talks on a post-Brexit free trade deal with the UK, a cache of leaked documents has revealed.

The papers were dramatically unveiled by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who said they left “in tatters” the prime minister’s denial that the NHS will be on the table in trade talks.

The 451-page dossier of official files showed the US had “pushed hard” to extend patents on drugs developed by American corporations in a way which would raise prices to NHS patients. A UK negotiator said such a move could put Britain “in difficult territory”.

And the dossier made clear that the US has been “emphatic” in its insistence that climate change should not even be mentioned in the deal, which Boris Johnson wants to strike as soon as possible after the UK leaves the European Union.

But furious Conservatives accused Mr Corbyn of “out-and-out lying” and suggested he was peddling conspiracy theories in a bid to distract attention away from his difficulties over antisemitism allegations and Labour’s plans for Brexit and taxation.

Mr Johnson dismissed the Labour leader’s claims as “total nonsense”, and said: “I can give you an absolute cast-iron guarantee that this is a complete diversion. That the NHS under no circumstances would be on the table for negotiation, for sale.”

The row came as new polling data involving almost 40,000 voters suggested Mr Johnson could be heading for a comfortable overall majority of 82, with up to 366 Tory MPs in the 12 December general election.

But analysis of the Focaldata survey* by the Best for Britain campaign for a second referendum suggested that fewer than 120,000 anti-Brexit voters in 57 marginal constituencies could deny Tories a majority by voting tactically.

Mr Johnson’s senior aide and Vote Leave guru Dominic Cummings issued a warning against complacency to Brexit supporters, and said that “things are much tighter than they seem and there is a very real possibility of a hung parliament”.

Mr Cummings said Mr Corbyn aimed to “cheat” a second referendum by extending the vote to foreign nationals, and urged Leavers not to risk letting him into Downing Street by the back door by voting for Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party.

Former Tory MP Nick Boles, who quit the party over Brexit, said the Cummings blog was an attempt to drive up the Tory tally of postal votes, many of which will be cast over the next few days.

After a slew of bad headlines about his refusal to apologise for his handling of antisemitism during a TV interview on Tuesday, Mr Corbyn came back fighting with the claim that Mr Johnson’s government was “preparing to sell our NHS”.

The Labour leader holds up part of the 451-page dossier

He pointed to details in the dossier which showed that the US was pushing for a deal in which all services would be opened up to American companies unless they were specifically exempted.

“Total market access” should be the “baseline assumption of the trade negotiations” because it “incentivises freer trade”, the dossier said.

UK officials assured their US counterparts that Britain would be “a liberalising influence” and that together they could “fly the good flag for services liberalisation”.

“That’s a green light for breaking open Britain’s public services so corporations can profit from them,” said Mr Corbyn.

And he warned: “The US is demanding that our NHS is on the table in negotiations for a toxic deal – it’s already being talked about in secret. That could lead to runaway privatisation of our health service.

“Mega-corporations see Johnson’s alliance with Trump as a chance to make billions from the illness and sickness of people in this country.

“And if the Conservatives have their way and this deal goes forward, the changes I’ve revealed will be almost irreversible.”

US President Donald Trump said during his visit to London in June that the NHS would be on the table in trade talks, before hastily backtracking after his comments caused a furore.

Mr Corbyn said drug prices were an average of 250 per cent higher in the US than the UK because of payment regimes, including longer periods when new drugs remain under patent.

And he warned that the NHS could have to pay £500m a week more for medicines under what he termed a “toxic Trump deal”.

Boris Johnson on the campaign trail

Mr Corbyn said that as well as healthcare, the documents – which detail meetings over the period July 2017 to July 2019 – showed the talks had covered areas like food safety, workers’ rights and gender discrimination where the US was seeking to tear down UK regulatory barriers.

The document also showed that US negotiators said there would be “all to play for” in a transatlantic free trade agreement if the UK left the EU without a deal with its European neighbours, but that a free trade agreement would be a “non-starter” if Britain remained in the single market and customs union.

Tory sources said healthcare was mentioned in only four parts of the lengthy document, and there was no indication that the UK had acceded to US requests for access to NHS markets. The papers covered a period before Mr Johnson came to office, they said.

International trade secretary Liz Truss said: “Jeremy Corbyn is getting desperate and is out-and-out lying to the public about what these documents contain.

“As we have consistently made clear: the NHS will not be on the table in any future trade deal and the price that the NHS pays for drugs will not be on the table. This sort of conspiracy theory-fuelled nonsense is not befitting of the leader of a major political party.”

Mr Corbyn caused a stir during last week’s TV debate with Mr Johnson by brandishing a document released by the government with most of its contents blacked out, which he said contained the prime minister’s plan “to sell out our NHS to the United States and big pharma”.

On Wednesday, he said he was now able to release the full uncensored version of the reports made by UK officials of their meetings with US negotiators in Washington and London.

But Conservative sources said the unredacted document had in fact been available on the internet for around two months, and suggested Labour had been saving it for use at a time when its election campaign needed a boost.

* Focaldata collected data from 39,476 adults polled between 15 October and 24 November

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