Brexit: NHS could be 'on the table' as part of US trade deal, ambassador says

Health secretary wades into the row, saying health service is 'not for sale'

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Tuesday 04 June 2019 15:42 BST
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US ambassador says NHS will be 'on the table' in future US trade deal

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Donald Trump's British envoy has sparked fury with claims that access to the NHS would be "on the table" in a post-Brexit trade deal with the US.

Woody Johnson, the US ambassador to the UK, said the "entire economy" would be included in transatlantic negotiations, which could include allowing American private firms to bid for NHS contracts.

In an interview ahead of Mr Trump's state visit, Mr Johnson said the US was already "looking at all the components of the deal and trying to get everything lined up so when the time comes we’re ready to go".

Asked if healthcare would be part of the deal, he told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show: "I think probably the entire economy, in a trade deal all things that are traded will be on the table."

Mr Johnson also said chlorinated chicken - which is permitted under American regulations but banned in the EU - was "completely safe".

He added: "Once again, you can have a choice. We have five million Brits, British people, coming over to the US every year and I’ve never heard a complaint, one complaint about anything to do with chicken."

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, waded into the row to insist the NHS would not be flooded with private bidding from US pharmaceutical giants and healthcare firms.

He said: "My American friends, know this: The NHS is not for sale.

"Yes we’d love to make it cheaper to buy your life-saving pharmaceuticals - but the NHS will not be on the table in any future trade talks."

But Labour seized on the comments as a sign that the NHS was "up for sale" under a new Conservative leader, as Theresa May's tenure comes to an end on Friday.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “The ambassador’s comments are terrifying, and show that a real consequence of a no deal Brexit, followed by a trade deal with Trump, will be our NHS up for sale.

"This absolutely should not be on the table. Nigel Farage and the Tories want to rip apart our publicly funded and provided NHS.”

Environment committee chairwoman Mary Creagh said: "Brexit has always been a recipe for the destruction of our NHS.

"What Cameron started, Trump will finish..."

Liberal Democrat leadership contender Sir Ed Davey said the "cat was out of the bag" over future US trade deals.

He said: "I worry that the government is desperate to sign pretty much anything. We must ensure that access to the NHS is not up for grabs in return for a trade deal.

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"A Brexit Britain standing on our own will be in a far weaker negotiating position against Trump and his America First agenda."

Trade is likely to be a key part of discussions during Mr Trump's three-day state visit, which begins on Monday.

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