Over one million people petitioned the government. Thousands emailed, wrote to and met with their MPs. Over 500 senior health professionals wrote to all MPs. All of this was for one simple goal – to keep our NHS out of the UK’s post-Brexit trade deals, as 75% of the British public want.
And yet last night the Conservative Party walked through the lobbies of the House of Commons to vote against an amendment to the Trade Bill that would have protected our NHS. In doing so, they have kept our treasured health service very much ‘on the table’ in trade negotiations with Donald Trump, and the rest of the world. This despite all of Boris Johnson’s warm words and platitudes during the election and since. Despite all the times he claimed the NHS would never be up for sale. Despite his hollow clapping for our NHS staff.
Tory MPs repeat that they have no intention of selling off our NHS – pointing to manifesto promises that the NHS will not be ‘on the table’. But their manifesto is not a legally binding commitment. Red lines in the Trade Bill would give us the reassurance that we need that the NHS is safe, yet the government refused to put them in. Why? Because they want to keep their options open, to offer up profitable chunks of our health service to private companies.
At a time when we’ve been relying on our NHS more than ever before, this is nothing short of an abject betrayal. What it represents is the prospect of the end of our publicly-owned, publicly-run NHS as we know it. The NHS has already been hacked away at, carved up and marketised by successive governments.
But that’s nothing compared to the damage that could be wrought by this Trade Bill. We now face the real prospect of higher drug prices, private companies being able to sue the government if it tries to limit their ability to profit from our healthcare, and privatisation of the NHS being ramped up and locked into international trade treaties that will be increasingly difficult for future governments to unravel.
To make matters worse, the Tories also saw fit to vote against giving parliament the right to have any say whatsoever in future trade deals. That means the government can negotiate, agree and sign up to trade arrangements behind closed doors without MPs getting to scrutinise or vote on them.
It also means the public won’t know just how much of our NHS is being held up on a silver platter for Donald Trump and the American private healthcare industry. And it means the government will have carte blanche with limited if any accountability from the press, parliament or the public. This isn’t democracy. It’s a power grab. And it’s a power grab that must be fought.
While the Trade Bill has passed through the House of Commons, it hasn’t been signed into law just yet. First it must go through the House of Lords. The Conservative Party has betrayed the public in the Commons, resting on their 80 seat majority. But they have no such majority in the upper house. It’s time for the Lords – whether they are Labour, Green, Lib Dems or crossbenchers – to stand up for our NHS and resist this Trade Bill.
And it’s time for the British public to send a message to those MPs who walked through the lobbies last night to sign away our NHS in trade deals: we won’t forget whose side you were on.