With Theresa May indicating that Britain’s future lies outside the EU single market and Donald Trump signalling his desire for a quick US-UK trade deal, the likelihood of a future deal with America has shot up the agenda. But, in line with Barack Obama’s warning, the “back of the queue” may be the best place when it comes to a deal with Trump’s America.
Let’s not forget the USA is the UK’s most important “single country” trading partner. In the absence of any deal, the US is already the UK’s largest export partner and second-largest import partner.
But transform this into a “new generation” trade deal similar to the controversial TTIP and CETA pacts, and we risk losing the NHS, triggering another financial crisis, and replacing the European Court of Justice with a dystopian set of secretive, one-way “corporate courts” designed for big businesses to sue governments for lost profits. In one fell swoop, the ancient British principle of “equality before the law” will be destroyed.
But why would a trade deal with the US have anything to do with our public services or the size of big banks? Because today’s trade deals are not what they used to be: trade has expanded from dealing with import/export taxes (“tariffs”) on goods, to take in intellectual property, access to public services markets, and “rights” for corporations investing overseas.
Another key agenda is reducing what trade experts call “non-tariff barriers”, which include our most treasured social, health and environmental protections.
Under TTIP and CETA – ahead of the deals even coming into effect – we saw protections sacrificed including dropping legislation on so-called “gender-bending” chemicals, for the first time allowing the entry of meat washed in lactic acid, and diluting climate change legislation to allow tar sands oil to enter Europe.
Under the pro-corporate regimes of Trump and May, we can expect much more of the same – and a similar disdain for scrutiny and transparency, given the government’s willingness to bypass parliamentary scrutiny for CETA and to prevent MPs reading TTIP texts.
Trump’s transition team has pledged to dismantle the Dodd-Frank Act, brought in after the 2008 financial crisis to ensure, among many other issues, that banks cannot be allowed to be “too big to fail”.
Remove Dodd-Frank and, as the architect of these rules argues, you’re “likely to recreate the very conditions that led to the 2008 financial crisis … the financial sector will get a nice sugar high for a few years, and then crash the economy”.
Trump’s criticisms of Obamacare include that it resulted in “less competition and fewer choices”; his proposed remedy is “much-needed free market reforms”.
This preference for privatisation finds a welcome audience in the May administration. The NHS is already part-privatised and facing “systematic underfunding” – and under any US-UK deal, US big business will demand access to the tendering of health contracts, likely championed as worthy additional “investment” by the May administration.
As shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth rightly warns: “This could be a Trojan horse for NHS privatisation.”
As with everything surrounding Brexit, there are if’s, but’s and maybe’s for any deal with Trump’s administration – chiefly, that it can’t take place until we exit the EU, and what it will include will be determined by any new arrangements agreed with the EU.
While there can be no doubt that any deal between Trump’s US and May’s Brexit Britain will great for big business and elites, the real danger is to our democracy, the NHS, and rules protecting food, the environment and much else besides.
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