Perhaps it was the thought that a respite from Jeremy Corbyn’s remorseless attack on Tory treatment of the NHS that lulled Theresa May into a false sense of security at PMQs yesterday as Lib Dem leader Vince Cable rose from his seat beyond the gangway to pitch his allotted question. She soon discovered that the respite would not be coming any time soon. This is what Cable put to the Prime Minister.
“The Prime Minister knows that one of the key objectives of American trade negotiators in any future deal after Brexit is to secure access for American companies to Business in the NHS. Can she give an absolute guarantee that in those negotiations the NHS will be excluded from their scope, and can she confirm that in her conversations with President Trump, she’s made it absolutely clear to him that the NHS is not for sale?”
So what did she have to say in response? “We will go into those negotiations to get the best possible deal for the United Kingdom”. Yes, well. Cable was not convinced. “Asked if PM would give an assurance that she’s told President Trump #NHS business not for sale in any trade deal with the US. All she has to say is that @GOVUK wants to increase trade with US. Can only infer that NHS is indeed for sale under @Conservatives. #PMQs”.
That media which is willing to report such events - so not the Sun, Express and Telegraph, although the Mail did try spinning it - was as unconvinced as the Lib Dem leader. The Guardian noted “Afterwards May’s press secretary repeatedly refused to comment further. He stressed that as part of TTIP, the US-EU trade deal that has never been finalised, the UK had secured exemptions to ensure the NHS could not be targeted. However, he would not rule out, in principle, US private sector involvement in the NHS in future”.
The Independent added “Her answer failed to mention the NHS at all, instead saying negotiations were already ‘starting’ to try to boost trans-Atlantic trade, even before Britain leaves the EU … The comments were seized on by Peter Kyle, a Labour MP and supporter of the pro-EU Open Britain campaign, who said: ‘Theresa May just gave Donald Trump the green light to get his hands on our National Health Service’”.
Adam Bienkov at Business Insider reported “Asked by Business Insider to clarify the prime minister's comments, a spokesperson for May said that discussions about the detail of any trade deal had not yet begun … ‘We are at the outset of those discussions and her comments reflect that fact,’ the spokesperson said, adding that ‘the point is we are not into the detail of those discussions. We are very much at the outset of them’”.
He also noted the Labour response, from a Corbyn spokesperson: “Any attempt to push Britain into a race to the bottom in standards and regulation is completely unacceptable and obviously a faction in the conservative party leadership wants that … It is a matter of great concern. The British people do not want the cherry-picking or privatisation of the NHS”. Theresa May just let another cat out of the bag - and gifted Labour an attack line.
So now we know how great the dedication to the NHS is in Tory land. As in, it’s not great at all, and Jeremy Hunt’s assertions to the contrary are worthless. But you knew that already.