The largest trade union in Britain has criticised the claim that government officials were reluctant to put protections for the NHS into a controversial trans-Atlantic trade deal.
Unite has been hugely opposed to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal between Europe and the US, and has particularly suggested that it poses a future to the public nature of the NHS.
The union has been campaigning against the deal, and opined that the European commission deems the notion of excluding the NHS from the impact of the agreement incompatible with its overall negotiating strategy.
While Unite has been hugely critical of TTI P, other organisations and credential individuals have been similarly dismissive, concerned about the potential impact of the deal.
Many political critics of the trade partnership suggest that the deal would effectively make privatisation of the NHS irreversible for future administrations.
There is also concern that private companies with links to NHS contracts will be able to win higher levels of compensation by effectively bypassing domestic courts.
Despite the fact that the major political parties have all backed the European Union, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbin has nonetheless criticised the agreement.
Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning economist recruited by the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, to advise the Labour party, earlier this month went as far as saying the UK could be better off leaving the EU if TTIP was signed.
Unite’s assistant general secretary, Gail Cartmail, gave a statement to the media in which she outlined the concerns of the union about this trade deal.
“Given the importance of the NHS and the fierce debate taking place in the UK over the European Union, you would expect the EU commissioner for trade to act without delay to allay our concerns over the impact of TTIP on the NHS. It is time for Cecilia Malmström to make clear that the UK government can act to exempt the NHS from TTIP without opposition from the commission. The NHS is hugely important to people in the UK; Cecilia Malmstrom must answer these important questions without delay.”
And as the union continues to criticise the government’s position on both the NHS and TTIP, it is clear that meetings have been brokered between the two sides in the dispute.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills confirmed that a private meeting took place with Unite last month.
However, no statement has been made on the substance of this confab.
“The government has always been clear that protecting the NHS is of the utmost importance for the UK and will not be compromised for gains in any other part of the TTIP deal. We believe, as does the European commission, that provisions in the current TTIP texts and previous trade deals achieve this protection.”
TTIP has been reviled on both sides of the Atlantic by campaigners for offering too much power to the existing corporate sector.
The leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) has repeated the view that the NHS could effectively be privatised should voters choose to stay in the European Union.
Nigel Farage is particularly concerned about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP); a much criticised trade deal between the United States and Europe.
Farage believes that this would enable the NHS to be privatised “through the back door”, repeating the opinion of many economists.
Speaking on his weekly phone-in on LBC Radio, Farage asserted that the TTIP agreement would enable “giant American corporations to bid for contracts within the National Health Service”.
Farage added: “There are many people that fear that this could be the privatisation of the National Health Service through the back door. So the trade union movement, who have been fairly uncritical of the EU for the last 25 year or so, are suddenly up in arms about this.”
However, those who support the idea of a publicly-funded and accountable health service have also pointed out some of the hypocrisy in the remarks of the UKIP leader.
Farage had previously stated in 2012 that the NHS should be funded “through the marketplace of an insurance company”.
And last year he said political leaders would “have to return” to the debate about funding the NHS through an insurance-based system run by private companies.
But the position of Farage has been largely supported by research into the trade agreement.
Legal analysis instigated by the Unite union already concluded that the TTIP agreement would inevitably lead to the privatisation of elements of the NHS, and that this would ultimately be irreversible.
There is a massive political debate, of course, taking place on the European Union, and trade agreements such as TTIP are central to this ongoing dialogue.
But considering that both of the two major political parties have indicated that they will support the ‘yes campaign’ for European integration, it is certainly likely that the UK will ultimately remain part of the Eurozone.
Farage has been a frequent critic of the whole concept of the European Union, describing it as economically disastrous, bureaucratic, anti-democratic and unaccountable.
Indeed, UKIP itself is largely defined by its opposition to the European Union, and was initially viewed as a single-issue party, and to some degree, protest group.
Nonetheless, it does appear that those who supports the NHS should be weary of the implications of TTIP and other similar arrangements, especially in a climate of health service financial vulnerability.
A legal expert has warned that a controversial trade deal could have a significant impact on the future of the NHS.
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a proposed trade agreement between the European Union and the United States that has been widely criticised by some economic observers.
And Michael Bowsher QC believes that the agreement could ultimately result in some parts of the NHS being privatised.
Bowsher was speaking in an advisory capacity having been commissioned by the Unite Union.
The Government has also received legal advice on the issue, but has refused to publish it despite Freedom of Information requests.
TTIP is likely to be a major issue during the upcoming referendum on the European Union, with left-wing voters in particular expected to oppose the trade agreement.
And Bowsher opined that the finalised trade agreements could force the NHS to contract health services to private firms.
The lawyer also believes that the agreement could cause complications with ultimately handing contracts back to the NHS once they have been privatised.
Reporting on the issue, Bowsher suggested that the solution is “for the NHS to be excluded from the agreement, by way of a blanket exception contained within the main text of TTIP”.
Gail Cartmail, Unite’s assistant general secretary, emphasised her belief that there is a massive onus on the government to exclude the NHS from any agreement related to this trade deal.
“The UK government has no right to allow EU bureaucrats to negotiate away our ability to control the future of our NHS. David Cameron has the power to exclude the NHS from the trade deal – he must act and prevent the irreversible sale of our NHS.”
However the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which is leading on the TTIP negotiations, denied the views of both the union and Bowsher, and indicated that the TTIP deal will not significantly impact upon the NHS.
“The NHS is under no threat whatsoever from the TTIP deal or any other trade and investment agreement. It cannot force the UK to privatise public services or prevent it from regulating in the public interest and any suggestion to the contrary is both irresponsible and false. It will remain up to the UK government and devolved administrations to decide how to run publicly funded health services, including whether private companies should be involved. Where a service has previously been provided by a private provider, this is not irreversible.”
Following lobbying by the British Medical Association (BMA), the European Parliament has voted yes to a recommendation that public healthcare services be excluded from a free-trade agreement.
MEPs have been voting today (8 July) on a report calling for the European Commission to exclude public services — including the NHS — from the scope of TTIP (transatlantic trade and investment partnership).
“We are pleased that the full session of the European Parliament has voted to recommend that public services, such as the NHS, be excluded from TTIP”, said BMA council chair Mark Porter.
“This result follows similar favourable votes by two influential European Parliament committees, and significant lobbying by the BMA at a European and UK level. Today’s development will increase pressure on the EC to remove public services from the negotiating table, and we will continue to work with MEPs and European partners to secure its implementation.”
The full BMA/TTIP?briefing can be viewed on the BMA website.