As you can imagine, I have opened my mailbox in recent days and been on my Facebook page to see angry comments from constituents convinced that the nasty Tories and me in particular have voted to do something terrible. Except of course we haven’t, and what has happened is that people have been misled into believing a highly spun stunt deliberately manufactured by the Labour Party to cause outrage.
Many people who already do not like me or my Party will take the bait willingly and would eagerly recycle propaganda. But others are not politically motivated and are genuinely worried about claims that are being made and are usually annoyed when they discover the actual facts. I have found once I’ve explained what happened on the vote on the amendment to the Trade Bill that most people understand and accept the explanation.
Playing on the genuine fears of people like this for political gain is frankly immoral and unforgivable in my view, yet again it has happened.
So this time we are being accused of wanting to privatise the NHS and hand it over to President Trump simply because Conservative MPs defeated a Labour amendment to the Trade Bill on Monday which said we should not privatise the NHS and hand it over to President Trump in a trade deal with the USA.
The problem is that the Trade Bill has nothing to do with the NHS and nothing to do with the USA. The Trade Bill is a continuity Bill. In other words, it simply puts the trade agreements that we already had as Members of the European Union into UK law. It cannot be used to implement new free trade agreements with countries such as the US. The NHS is already protected by specific carve outs, exceptions and reservations in these trade negotiations. So I didn’t vote to not protect the NHS because our National Health Service is already protected. There is no EU trade deal with the USA and so the Bill does not apply to the USA.
I know that my Ministerial colleagues have no intention of lowering standards in transitioned trade agreements – the very purpose of these agreements is to replicate as close as possible the effects of existing commitments in EU agreements. Indeed, I can reassure you that none of the 20 continuity agreements signed so far have resulted in standards being lowered.
Rigorous checks and balances on the Government’s power to negotiate and ratify new agreements also already exist, including through the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010.
Moreover, trade agreements cannot by themselves make changes to our domestic law. Any legislative changes required as a result of trade agreements would be subject to the separate scrutiny and approval of Parliament in the usual ways.
Ironically if we had stayed part of the EU, a future trade deal between the EU and the USA could have sold the NHS down the river as our 27 partners could have overruled the UK’s objections in line with the private social insurance models that most EU countries run. Labour, who are still trying to derail Brexit, conveniently fail to mention that.
In the debate on these amendments on Monday, Minister Greg Hands stated clearly that the Bill had no influence on the NHS or a USA trade deal, and this amendment was completely redundant. Conservative MPs pointed out that the 2019 Conservative Party manifesto was clear – the NHS is not on the table in any trade deal. It says: “When we are negotiating trade deals, the NHS will not be on the table. The price the NHS pays for drugs will not be on the table. The services the NHS provides will not be on the table”.
Subsequently the Prime Minister has been clear that under no circumstances would we agree to any free trade deal that put the NHS on the table. He has told the US President and Vice President that “when we do a free trade deal, we must make sure that the NHS is not on the table” and “we will do everything to increase free trade, but the National Health Service is not on the table as far as our negotiations go”.
Even the independent Nuffield Trust have said any trade deal could not stop the NHS being a free, universal service. Head of Public Affairs Mark Dayan said a trade deal “would not have the power to stop the NHS being a free, universal service”.
So, this amendment was nonsense.
The Labour Party knew it was nonsense, yet they still put it to a vote and no doubt had their spin machine ready to go into overdrive to accuse the Government of doing something which it could not do in this legislation anyway, even if we wanted to which we most certainly don’t.
I have not spent the last few years fighting to return services to the Alexandra Hospital only to see it privatised, sold off or undermined in any way and that will always be my view.
Our NHS is unique and our most treasured public asset, and we want it always to remain that way. As the daughter of an NHS doctor I have been brought up to cherish our NHS – I always have and I always will.
So – to constituents who were misled by false reports, I apologise. I hope this has set the record straight.