On 9 March Rachel Reeves MP sponsored an Early Day Motion calling on the Government to ensure “that the retention of sovereignty for decisions concerning the NHS will be a red line for future TTIP (Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership) negotiations”.
Carving the NHS out of TTIP is Labour Party policy and a key demand for the European Parliamentary Labour Party. This policy was introduced under the leadership of Ed Miliband. The only political parties in the UK that don’t agree that TTIP needs to be changed to protect the NHS are the two parties who failed to make sure it was protected when the TTIP negotiations started: the Tories and the Liberal Democrats.
However, on 6 April, Ms Reeves then claimed in Labour List that the NHS is not actually at risk from TTIP. This was not because the Government has done what she called on it to do in the EDM. It hasn’t. Instead it looks like a misguided attempt to undermine people who use the risks that TTIP does pose to the NHS as an argument to back Brexit.
Unite is campaigning to remain in the EU and we do not agree with the view that to save the NHS from TTIP you have to back Brexit. However, at the time of writing TTIP does continue to pose a very real threat to our NHS. The reassurances from Commissioner Malmström and the NHS Confederation that Rachel Reeves uses to back up her position do not stand up to scrutiny.
Unite recently commissioned advice from Michael Bowsher QC, a renowned expert in this field of law – a former Chair of the EU law committee of the Bar Council and Co-Chair of the ICC Task Force on Public Procurement. In researching his opinion Mr Bowsher looked at the reassurances from the Commission quoted by Ms Reeves. More importantly, he also examined the latest EU offer to the US on Trade in Services (which was published after these statements from the European Commission and the NHS Confederation). He concluded that:
“TTIP does pose a threat to a future government wishing to take back control of health services … the safest course would be for the NHS to be the subject of a specific exclusion contained within the main body of the TTIP text, or an Annex II/III reservation provided for the benefit of the UK. Without such a reservation TTIP will pose a real and serious risk to the future ability of UK Government to regulate the NHS.”
David Cameron’s Government has the power to protect the NHS from the real threats posed by TTIP right now – Brexit or no Brexit. So it is really important that those of us who want to protect our NHS continue to insist that the Government exempts the NHS from this trade deal (no matter where we stand on Europe).
Unite will continue to campaign vigorously for a vote to remain in the EU in the interests of its members’ jobs and in the interests of peace and unity on the continent. However, we will not let that blind us to the facts about TTIP and the very real threat it poses to the NHS, neither should Rachel Reeves.
Gail Cartmail is Unite assistant general secretary