Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn (right) and shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner (left) in London on November 27 2019. Picture: AFP/TOLGA AKMEN
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn (right) and shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner (left) in London on November 27 2019. Picture: AFP/TOLGA AKMEN

London — On Wednesday, Britain’s main opposition Labour Party accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson of plotting a secret deal with US President Donald Trump to allow US pharmaceutical companies access to the state health service.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn held up what he said were 451 pages of previously secret documents that proved Johnson is seeking to put the National Health Service (NHS) on the table in a post-Brexit trade deal.

Britain goes to the polls on December 12, with Johnson hoping to secure a majority to be able to push through his divorce deal to take the country out of the EU.

However, the funding and running of the NHS is a recurring election topic. Johnson’s Conservatives accused a “desperate” Corbyn of “out-and-out lying” by peddling “conspiracy theory-fueled nonsense”.

Corbyn had previously obtained a redacted version of the documents. But the Labour leader said the unredacted version catalogued six meetings between US and UK officials since 2017, detailing “what [the Conservatives] don’t want you to know”.

“The US is demanding that our NHS is on the table in negotiations for a toxic deal,” Corbyn told reporters in central London. The sale of the NHS is the government’s “secret agenda”, he said, warning that the coming election is “a fight for the survival of the NHS as a public service”.

“It’s already being talked about in secret. That could lead to runaway privatisation of our health service,” he said, adding, “Mega-corporations see Johnson’s alliance with Trump as a chance to make billions from the illness and sickness of people in this country.”

Talks are at “an advanced stage” and could see an increase in the cost of generic drugs, he said.

The NHS was set up in 1948 under a Labour government, promising free healthcare for all “from cradle to the grave”. Labour has historically been its staunchest defender and repeatedly warned that free-market Conservatives have an agenda to introduce privatisation, which would end free healthcare.

“We will never sell out our NHS,” said Corbyn.

Tories call it a ‘stunt’

The Conservatives said the documents — read-outs of six meetings of the UK-US trade and investment working group between 2017 and 2019 — have been online for two months and only mention the NHS four times.

The Tory party’s manifesto says the health service, the price it pays for drugs and the services it provides, are “not on the table” in any future trade talks.

The Conservatives’ international trade secretary Liz Truss slammed what she called Corbyn’s “stunt”.

“Jeremy Corbyn is getting desperate and is out-and-out lying to the public about what these documents contain,” she said. “The NHS will not be on the table in any future trade deal and the price that the NHS pays for drugs will not be on the table. This sort of conspiracy theory-fueled nonsense is not befitting of the leader of a major political party.”

For his part, Trump told Britain’s LBC radio in October that he is not interested in the NHS.

“We wouldn’t be involved in that,” the US president said. “It’s not for us to have anything to do with your healthcare system. We’re just talking about trade. I don’t even know where that started ... with respect to us taking over your healthcare system. It’s so ridiculous.”

Trump is due to visit Britain next week for the Nato summit on December 3-4, when the issue is likely to resurface.

The Britain Elects poll aggregator puts the Conservatives on 42%, Labour on 30%, the Liberal Democrats on 15% and the Brexit Party on 4%.

AFP