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Factcheck: Corbyn’s ‘NHS for sale’ claims

27 November 2019

12:23 PM

27 November 2019

12:23 PM

Jeremy Corbyn claims he has the ‘proof’ that the NHS is at risk in a post-Brexit trade deal with the US. The Labour leader this morning called a press conference to reveal a series of leaked UK papers from trade talks with the US, which he said contained comprehensive evidence that the NHS was for sale to the Americans. But do Corbyn’s claims actually stack up with what the documents say? Mr S. examines the facts:

Drug patents

Labour claim:

‘Labour and experts said big US corporations want to force up the price our NHS pays for drugs as part of the toxic deal being negotiated with Trump. The Conservatives said this was nonsense. The documents show that we were right. In fact, negotiations have advanced even further than we feared they had. The US and UK have already finished initial discussion on lengthening patents for medicines.’

Reality:

In the US, pharmaceutical companies are allowed to extend their patents on drugs, when the patent approval process has been delayed by US officials. The patent extensions are for half a day for every day the US clinically examines the drugs, and one day for every day the FDA takes to grant market approval.

The US has lobbied for these extensions to apply in the UK, but in the trade documents, the UK clarified that as we have an ‘accelerated approval for patents’, the extensions are not really relevant here. These extensions would not normally apply to our drugs, as the UK approval process is faster. Elsewhere, the documents do not seem to support Labour’s claim that the US would somehow manage to jack up drug prices in Britain.

The NHS is on the table

Labour claim:

‘Labour has been warning that NHS services will also be on the table in trade talks for a sell-out deal with Trump… The Tories have denied it, but the documents show that on this occasion, Trump was right and so were we.

The new breed of trade deals are not only – or even mainly – about tariffs on goods at the border. They are also about services – including our health service. And these documents make clear that for the US, to quote page 41 of the third meeting report, “everything is included unless something is specifically excluded.” They want, I quote: “Total market access” as the “baseline assumption of the trade negotiations.” “Total market access.”’

Reality:

The part of the document Corbyn is quoting is a UK assessment of what the United States’ trade position will be in the talks. But Jeremy Corbyn appears to have helpfully left out the second part of the quote from the document which supposedly confirmed that NHS services were on the table in talks. The full sentence reads:

‘The NCM [US] approach makes total market access the baseline assumption of the trade negotiations and requires countries to identify exclusions, not the other way around’ (emphasis added).

In essence, the US starts off by presuming that everything is on the table in trade talks, but asks other countries to identify the services they want to exclude from the deal. The UK would presumably exclude the health service from the talks.

The UK did not ask for the NHS to be excluded

Jeremy Corbyn then claimed that UK officials had not demanded the NHS be excluded from the talks:

‘But surely you can’t believe that British officials would demand the NHS be excluded? Apparently not.

In fact, on behalf of the Conservative government, officials reassured their counterparts that “the US should expect the UK to be a liberalising influence” and that together they could “fly the good flag for services liberalisation.”’

Reality:

The quote Corbyn cites is actually from a different round of talks, in which the exclusion of the NHS has not actually been mentioned. The two parties are instead discussing the liberalisation of services in general. The documents do not appear to make any mention of the UK allowing the health service to be opened up in the trade talks.

Chlorine chicken

Labour claim:

‘How about chlorine-washed chicken on our dinner tables? Have a look at the second meeting, on page 42 and 43, where the US even agrees to share its “public lines” to help our government with its “media narratives.”’

Reality:

The document does say that the US offered to give the UK its public lines on chlorinated chicken, but does not say if the UK ever used them. Part of the ‘public lines’ appear to be attempts by US officials to make clear ‘that US poultry producers don’t use chlorine in their food processes.’

Climate change

Labour claim:

‘You might want to look at how Trump’s America absolutely refuses, absolutely refuses, to even mention climate change in the deal – see the second meeting, page 17.’

Reality:

The US does advise against inserting references to climate change in the deal. The documents say that their trade representatives are barred from putting greenhouse gas reductions in trade deals by Congress. This has nothing to do with Trump though. The US officials confirmed these laws have been in place since 2015, when Obama was in office.


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