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Demonstration with signs

It's Our NHS National Demonstration, London 2017. Photo: Jim Aindow

With proof that the NHS is ‘on the table’, we need to make next week’s anti-Trump demo massive, argues Tom Lock Griffiths

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn held a press conference this morning in London, saying he now has the full unredacted 451-page dossier showing talks had taken place between UK and US trade envoys, and that drug pricing and access to NHS contracts was discussed

The contents of the documents cover six rounds of negotiations in London and Washington between July 2017 and July 2019. And the Labour Party claim that the discussions about the NHS that appear in the document prove beyond doubt that the NHS is very much ‘on the table’, with the US particularly interested in discussing drug pricing controls - mainly, extending patents that stop cheaper generic medicines being used.

While the dossier is careful to hedge its language on the National Health Service, passages like “we will need to be able to go into more detail about the functioning of the NHS and our views on whether or not it is engaged in commercial activities” indicate a commitment from the document's authors to find loop holes that will enable our health service’s further commercialisation. 

This will come as a surprise to hardly anyone. Recent polling, reported in the Independent, suggests that around half of the British public believe Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been lying about protecting the NHS from a trade deal already. During the ITV leaders debate on Tuesday 19th November, Mr Corbyn waved the redacted version at the camera, and challenged Boris Johnson as to why there was still so much secrecy around this issue. All indications are that this unredacted document will prove, yet again, that Boris Johnson cannot be trusted with our NHS. 

The US Government is determined to “eliminate all barriers to commerce between the American and British people” and introduce “fully liberalised services.”

This means that any meaningful deal between the UK and the US, whatever the politicians say, will necessarily have to allow access to one of our biggest internal markets, namely the NHS where price controls are central to making medicines accessible.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, have been arguing that price control mechanisms “artificially depress the market value of US innovative medicines” and they call on the US government to use trade deals to push for market entry for high priced drugs of American companies. 

If a trade deal with the US materialises under a newly elected Boris Johnson Government after December 12th, drug prices will soar and already struggling services will crumble at a greatly accelerated rate. All of this while sub-contracting continues at a pace and the wholesale privatisation of the NHS becomes more certain.

In stark contrast to this during the Labour party 2019 manifesto launch Jeremy Corbyn said:  

“Mr Johnson is preparing to sell out our National Health Service for a United States trade deal that will drive up the cost of medicines and lead to the runaway privatisation of our health service [...] 500 million a week of NHS money, enough for 20,000 new nurses, could be handed to big drugs companies as part of a deal now being plotted in secret.”

The revelation of the dossier today shows how right he is.

The left must be clear in our opposition to NHS being involved in any trade deal whatsoever, especially one involving the Trump administration. Surprisingly the NHS, once a soft issue for the radical left, has become a key battleground both as rallying point for anti-austerity, and anti-neoliberal activism, but also as a central part of this ongoing general election, where moving the debate away from Brexit and onto the real life concerns of working class people means we are able to reach a wide audience with the message of a radical alternative to the status quo. 

That Trump and Boris together offer such clear enemies at present makes the struggle to protect our NHS all the more vital and yet all the more winnable.  

This is why the No to Trump, No to NATO demonstration, Tuesday 3rd December, 5pm Trafalgar Square has become an essential mobilisation now, both to oppose Trump’s far-right ideology, NATO and its neo-imperialist agenda, but also to make clear the links and the dangers of a Trump–Boris trade pact with far-reaching consequences for British domestic policy. And during this general election where all of this is at stake, the timing couldn’t be better.

Dr Sonia Adesera, who will be speaking at the No to Trump demonstration, is the concerned doctor who set up the Change.Org petition, Keep our NHS out of US Trade deals which now has over 900k signatures, calling on our government to guarantee that our health service will never form part of any trade deal, never mind one with racist and misogynist, Trump. She said,

“I’m an NHS Doctor and member of Keep Our NHS Public, and I’m really concerned about an NHS Trump trade deal, next week Trump is coming to town, so let’s get there and show him that he’s not welcome and he has to keep his hands off our NHS, next Tuesday 4pm Trafalgar Square, be there.” 

We all should.

Find out more information on the demonstration here.

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