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Cameron faces TTIP showdown over NHS

The government is coming under increasing fire for its refusal to remove health services from irreversible privatisation in TTIP.

Image: TTIP - the elephant in the room. People's NHS.

This Friday will see the first Commons debate of Eltham MP Clive Efford’s bill to save the NHS from irreversible privatisation. Members of the public will gather in Parliament Square from 7pm on Thursday for an all-night vigil to support the initiative. Further demonstrations are planned for Friday itself.

The bill focuses on reversing some of the worst impacts of the Health & Social Care Act 2012, which has already seen 70 per cent of new NHS contracts outsourced to the private sector. Yet the final section also seeks to exempt the NHS from the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the controversial treaty currently being negotiated in secret between the European Commission and the US government.

If passed into law, the bill declares that: “No ratification by a Minister of the Crown of the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership Treaty shall cause any legally enforceable procurement or competition obligations to be imposed on any NHS body entering into any arrangement for the provision of health services in any part of the health services.”

Sadly, such national legislation would not be enough to save the NHS from TTIP. If health services are included in the deal, any future UK government will be bound by its treaty obligations as an EU member state over and above unilateral declarations such as the one envisaged in the bill.

Even if the UK were to take the extreme option of leaving the European Union altogether, TTIP would still enable US health corporations to sue future governments for reversing NHS privatisation, thanks to the ‘survival clauses’ that ensure free trade agreements remain in force for years after a state has ceased to be a party to them.

Far from agreeing to remove health services from TTIP, the coalition government has been talking up the business opportunities of opening health markets to private sector competition. In a bizarre response sent to The People’s NHS campaign last week, the government highlights the potential profits to be made by multinational companies from TTIP, as if that will somehow compensate for the loss of the NHS.

Speaking at the G20 summit in Australia this weekend, David Cameron tried to dismiss fears over TTIP’s impacts on the NHS as ‘nonsense’. Yet the European Commission has confirmed that any move to renationalise the NHS would be open to challenge under the new powers that TTIP will grant US corporations, making privatisation effectively irreversible.

This is why trade unions and other campaigners are now calling for outright rejection of TTIP rather than carveouts of one sector or another. Exempting health and other public services will never be enough to protect us from the devastating impacts of a deal that even official assessments say will cost at least one million jobs in the EU and USA combined.

The tide is turning against TTIP. The joint communiqué issued by Barack Obama and European leaders at the G20 is a last ditch attempt to save a process that is running into real trouble as more and more forces rise up in opposition to it. The two sides have already been forced to abandon their plan to hold the next round of TTIP negotiations in December, as originally scheduled. Even more active resistance will be coming their way in the new year.

David Cameron, Ed Miliband and all other party leaders interested in the outcome of next May’s general election would do well to read the writing on the wall.

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About the author

John Hilary is Executive Director of War on Want and author of The Poverty of Capitalism: Economic Meltdown and the Struggle for What Comes Next (2013).

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