Labour claims NHS at risk of privatisation under US-UK trade deal

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn holds a redacted copy of the Department for International Trade's UK-US Trade and Investment Working Group readout as he delivers a speech about the NHS, in Westminster, London.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is warning the NHS is at risk of privatisation, claiming his party has obtained official documents showing the health service is “on the table” under a UK-US trade deal.

In a speech in London, he held up copies of papers which reportedly show the US government is demanding the NHS is up for discussion trade negotiations over a post-Brexit free trade deal.

The Labour leader claimed the papers undermined Conservative prime minister Boris Johnson’s claims that the NHS would not be part of any trade talks with US president Donald Trump’s administration.

“The uncensored documents leave Boris Johnson’s denials in absolute tatters,” he said in the speech in the middle of the UK election campaign.

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

“Big pharma has ripped off and imperilled the health of the American people for years. Now these secret reports show they’re looking to do the same to us – if the Conservatives are elected on 12 December.”

But the Conservatives hit back at the claims, with a minister accusing Corbyn of “out-and-out lying to the public and denying the NHS or drug prices were up for negotiation.

READ MORE: Corbyn accuses Johnson of plotting to open NHS up to big US drug firms

Labour is widely seen to have an advantage over the Conservatives on the NHS, with the party more trusted to meet its needs in the polls and voters ranking health services highly among their priorities.

The Labour leader has repeatedly attacked the Conservatives over fears that US officials could demand greater access for US firms and higher prices for their drugs in return for beneficial terms for UK firms trading with the US.

He said the papers showed Britain and the US had finished initial talks on lengthening patents for medicines, meaning drugs remain more expensive for longer. “Lives will be put at risk as a result of this,” Corbyn claimed.

A Channel 4 investigation earlier this month found the redacted documents suggesting US and UK officials had already discussed drug pricing in initial talks over a future trade deal. Labour appears to have obtained unredacted copies.

The research suggested it could rake up bills by £27 billion if the government caved in and expected the already cash-strapped NHS to cover the costs.

But international trade Secretary and Conservative candidate Liz Truss said: “Jeremy Corbyn is getting desperate and is out-and-out lying to the public about what these documents contain.

“He has always believed in conspiracy theories - which is why he has failed to crack down on the scourge of antisemitism in his party. This is the man that has caused huge offence by blaming an imaginary ‘Zionist lobby’ for society’s ills and now he has decided to smear UK officials too. 

 “People should not believe a word that he says - this stunt is simply a smokescreen for the fact that he has no plan for Brexit and that he has been forced to admit that he wants to increase taxes for millions of families. 

READ MORE: UK firms warn over ‘inconvenient truth’ on Brexit in Conservative manifesto

 “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.” 

Johnson has also previously said suggestions the NHS would be at risk were “pure Loch Ness monster” claims.

“It’s not going to be on any kind of international trade negotiation. This is pure Loch Ness Monster, Bermuda Triangle stuff,” he said earlier this month.