Confirming beyond doubt that a future Tory government under Boris Johnson would sell out the NHS under a US-UK trade deal, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn revealed an explosive dossier of un-redacted documents detailing secret trade talks.
Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday (November 27), Corbyn held up the 451-page dossier which he said covered six rounds of trade talks in London and Washington from July 2017.
Prescription costs would soar under a Tory-backed UK-US trade deal, Corbyn said, as he highlighted that initial trade talks between the two countries over the lengthening of medicine patents had already concluded.
“Longer patents mean only one thing – more expensive drugs. Lives will be put at risk as a result of this,” he noted. “Many out-of-patent medicines available cheaply here are vastly more expensive under patent law in the US.”
Corbyn gave the example of the drug Humira, which is used to treat Chron’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis. In the UK, the NHS pays £1,409 per packet, while in the US, the cost is more than £8,000 per packet.
The Labour leader pointed to page 51 of the dossier, which shows that UK trade officials have said that ‘patent issues’ around ‘NHS access to generic drugs will be a key consideration’.
“You can also see on page 132 of the report of the fourth meeting, where drug patents are being discussed, that officials are ready to ‘exchange text’ which is trade-negotiator-speak for it being at a very advanced stage,” Corbyn told journalists. “And they say they are ready to, I quote, ‘really take significant further steps.’
Corbyn went on to highlight a key line in the dossier in which US trade officials asserted their desire to put all UK services on the table, including the NHS. “Everything is included unless something specifically is excluded,”, the line read.
“They want, I quote: ‘Total market access’ as the ‘baseline assumption of the trade negotiations’,” he said.
The documents also revealed the US bent on watering down the UK’s higher food standards, including allowing the import of chlorinated chickens, pushing for less nutritional labelling on foods and granting less protection for regional foods such as Stilton cheese.
The Labour leader pointed out that the US wants to ban any mention of climate change in a US-UK trade deal, and trade officials have also offered to share with the UK government its ‘public lines’ to help convince a sceptical UK public that chlorinated chicken is safe.
Labour had previously obtained heavily redacted versions of the documents, which were also featured on a Channel 4 Dispatches expose in October. It is understood the party obtained the uncensored version in the last few days.
Corbyn said the documents should give voters pause.
“Now we know the truth, when Johnson says, ‘get Brexit done’, it’s a fraud on the British people. This is the reality. Years of bogged down negotiations and our NHS is up for sale,” he said.
“This election is now a fight for the survival of our National Health Service. As a public service free for all at the point of need.”
Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe agreed as he highlighted why the documents released today were so worrying.
“The release of these papers are further proof that we cannot trust the Tories with our NHS and that five more years of Conservative government will mean five more years of NHS underfunding; further NHS privatisation; and the opening of our health service to the mercy of US pharmaceutical companies, which will drive up the cost of drugs and medicines by extending the length of patents for these drugs,” he said. “This gives these companies a longer window of opportunity to charge the NHS more than double what it pays from drugs and medicines now for patients. This will transfer valuable funds from the care of the sick and vulnerable to the profits of already rich and prosperous shareholders.”
“Profit should never be put before patients and the NHS is only safe from privatisation and commercialisation with a Labour Government,” he added. “Since the introduction of the Health and Social Care Act in 2013 – the accounts of the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) confirm that £9.2 billion had been handed to private firms in the financial year 2018/19, up 14 per cent on the 2014/15 figure of £8.1 billion. This is gathering storm and can only be halted by voting for Labour on 12th December.
“Unite will always campaign for an NHS that puts patients before profits and ensures that needless privatisation and competition is cut out of the NHS landscape to ensure that our NHS is never up for sale and remains in the hands of the public.”