Government brushes aside NHS Free Trade Treaty Concerns

MPs raise concerns about the impact the forthcoming trade treaty, TTIP, will have on the NHS - but Minster Without Portfolio Ken Clarke says it will make no difference.

Benedict Cooper
27 February 2014

The government refused to exempt the NHS from the Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) despite a volley of concerns from opposition MPs aired during a debate in parliament this week.

Labour, Green Party and Plaid Cymru MPs lined up to express fears about the effects of the agreement, which experts say could lead to wide scale privatisation of the health service and make future UK governments powerless to legislate to protect it.

Echoing the concerns of healthcare professionals and campaigners, MPs pressed government ministers over its position on the NHS, which experts argue should be protected from the free-trade deal.

Citing the European Commission’s own statements on government public service policy, which it said should not be over-ridden by the TTIP, Labour MP John Healey called for “nothing less than an exemption for the NHS from any deal”.

He added: “No trade deal should put at risk the vital democratic right of Governments to legislate in their national interests”.

A key flashpoint of the debate was discussion of the controversial Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) agreements included in the deal. The ISDS clauses have incensed health professionals and campaigners because they will hand private companies the power to sue governments which intervene against them in the public interest.

Labour backbencher Jim Sheridan pointed out:  “...a key anxiety is that if the NHS is not exempt from the TTIP, corporations will use the agreement to force more large-scale privatisation following implementation of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 in England and Wales.

“Decisions such as this should not be based on free trade. We need to retain our ability to run EU member states as we see fit, rather than as multinational corporations see fit”.

But Minister Without Portfolio Ken Clarke dismissed the MPs’ concerns, saying that “nothing in the agreement would open up access to the national health service beyond what is already permitted”.

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