Response from The Rt Hon Emily Thornberry, MP for Islington South and Finsbury to one of our member’s concern regarding a reckless approach to a trade deal with the United States, and the deeply troubling impact that this could have on the NHS.
Many thanks for your email about the NHS and Brexit. I share your concern regarding Boris Johnson’s reckless approach to a trade deal with the United States, and the deeply troubling impact that this could have on the NHS.
Successive Tory governments have demonstrated a complete disregard for the importance of the NHS. Almost a decade of austerity, cuts and privatisation has put a huge strain on services and left millions waiting longer for treatment. Earlier this month, the government pledged £1.8 billion for the NHS, yet this falls far short of the £6 billion maintenance backlog the NHS now faces, and simply will not make up for years of slash and burn cuts under austerity. Recent plans to build 40 new hospitals were quickly reversed when the Tories realised they only had the money for 6 of them. The pitiful ‘seed funding’ that has been pledged for the remaining 34 projects only further represents the Tories’ attitude to the NHS: piecemeal and inadequate.
Though Boris Johnson has promised to keep the NHS ‘off the table’, he has shown time and time again that he cannot be trusted. The government’s blatant desire for a No Deal Brexit has seen them cosy up to the Brexit Party and Nigel Farage, who has advocated a move away from state-funded healthcare to an Americanised insurance model.
It is clear that a No Deal Brexit would have disastrous consequences for the NHS. Earlier this month, I asked the new Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, whether the government could be considered legally accountable for preventable deaths that occur as the result of medicine shortages after No Deal. When people’s lives are at stake in this way, the government’s decision to play games of brinkmanship with Brussels is shameful.
As you rightly point out, a No Deal Brexit would drive the NHS into the arms of Donald Trump. Alex Azar, the US Health and Human Services Secretary, has even said that Washington will use trade negotiations and agreements with other countries to push up drug prices abroad, in order to lower the costs paid by patients in the US. A further threat to the NHS of a US trade deal would be through clauses that lock in existing levels of privatisation and prevent future governments from rolling them back. The NHS must be a red line when it comes to any future trade negotiations, but the past 9 years have shown us that the Tories cannot be trusted to protect it.
When it comes to the NHS, words are not enough. The Labour Party is proud to be the party of the NHS. We introduced it 78 years ago, and we have defended it under successive shameful Tory governments. That is why we need a Labour government which will always defend the principles of universality, and ensure the NHS is free at the point of use Labour will give the NHS the money it needs. A Labour government will invest £10 billion of capital funding to make sure that NHS buildings and IT systems are fit for the modern day.
Thank you again for your comments regarding this important issue. If there are any further points you would like to raise with me about this, or any other matter, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
The Rt Hon Emily Thornberry MP
Islington South and Finsbury