(Bloomberg) — Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn accused Boris Johnson’s Conservatives of putting the U.K.’s National Health Service at risk in secret trade talks with the U.S.
The opposition leader released a 451-page document, which detailed preparatory discussions between British and American officials on a future trade deal between the two countries after Brexit.
The previously redacted papers showed the U.S. was seeking “total market access” to the U.K. and suggest a no-deal Brexit is the preferred U.S. option because “there would be all to play for,” Corbyn said. The Labour leader is seeking to capitalize on voters’ concerns about creeping privatization in the state-funded health care system.
Read more: Never Mind Brexit, U.K. Vote Hinges on Future of the NHS
“This election is now a fight for the survival of our National Health Service,” Corbyn told reporters at an event in central London. “We are talking here about secret talks for a deal with Donald Trump after Brexit. A deal that will shape our country’s future.”
Labour turned to a subject it sees as a strength as it tried to draw a line under the antisemitism row that’s engulfed the party with just over two weeks until the Dec. 12 election. Surveys have repeatedly shown voters trust Labour more on health care than they trust Johnson’s Conservatives.
But Johnson has repeatedly said the health service won’t be part of post-Brexit trade talks with the U.S., and tweeted another denial less than an hour before Corbyn took to his podium. Campaigning in Cornwall, Johnson later told broadcasters the NHS “is in no way on the table, in no aspect whatever.”
“We are absolutely resolved that there will be no sale of the NHS, no privatization,” Johnson said in a pooled TV interview. “This is continually brought up by the Labour Party as a diversionary tactic from the difficulties they are encountering particularly over the problem about leadership on antisemitism and then the great vacuity about their policy on Brexit.”
International Trade Secretary Liz Truss dismissed Corbyn’s accusations as a “conspiracy theory” and said people “should not believe a word” he says.
Read the Documents Released by Labour
In his presentation, Corbyn held up a heavily redacted version of U.S. discussions that had been released by the government and then the unredacted version obtained by Labour, which he said “is a very different version of events.““These uncensored documents leave Boris Johnson’s denials in absolute tatters.” Corbyn said. “Perhaps he’d like to explain why these documents confirm the U.S. is demanding the NHS is on the table in the trade talks?”
The documents released by Labour are six British government accounts of meetings of the U.K.-U.S. Trade & Invest Working Group held between July 2017 and July 2019 — all before Johnson took office. They say:
The U.S. requested “total market access” should be the basis for negotiations and “everything in services should be open unless there was a very good reason not to”U.S. negotiators wanted an “ambitious” free trade agreement that removed “as many regulatory barriers as possible”U.S. negotiators were “clear that the U.K.-EU situation would be determinative: there would be all to play for in a no deal situation but U.K. commitment to the Customs Union and Single Market would make a U.K.-U.S. FTA a non-starter”The U.S. wanted the U.K. to seek regulatory autonomy from the EU on food labeling, and that the EU and U.S. have food safety systems that “are not easily compatible”The U.S. rejected including a reference to climate change in any trade dealIt was agreed the U.S. would share with the U.K. their “public lines” on chlorine-washed chickenU.S. officials were “very concerned” about the Brexit deal struck by then Prime Minister Theresa May and how it would affect trade talksOn pharmaceutical patents, the document said negotiators had reached a point where clearance was needed “to really take further steps”
Corbyn said U.S. pharmaceutical companies want to force up the price the NHS pays for drugs as part of a trade deal, noting that Trump regularly complains about the “unreasonably low prices” other countries pay for medicines. He also said U.K. officials conceded “NHS access to generic drugs will be a key consideration” in talks, and they are entering a “very advanced stage.”
He gave the example of AbbVie Inc.’s Humira — a drug for the treatment of Crohn’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis — which he said currently costs the NHS 1,409 pounds ($1,815) a packet, compared to 8,115 pounds ($10,450) in the U.S..
Corbyn again faced questions about his leadership after U.K. Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said on Tuesday that his claims to be tackling antisemitism were “mendacious fiction” and asked whether he is fit to run the country. Writing in the Times newspaper, he said “a new poison, sanctioned from the top, has taken root” in Labour.
“I made it very clear antisemitism is completely wrong in our society,” Corbyn said when asked if he would apologize. “Our party did make it clear when I was elected leader, and after, that antisemitism is unacceptable in any form in our party or society and did indeed offer its sympathies and apologies to those that had suffered.”
(Updates with Johnson quote in sixth paragraph.)
To contact the reporters on this story: Alex Morales in London at email@example.com;Greg Ritchie in London at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tim Ross at email@example.com, Thomas Penny, Stuart Biggs
For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com
©2019 Bloomberg L.P.