(Bloomberg) — Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn stood by his election campaign claim that the U.K.’s beloved National Health Service would be under threat from a post-Brexit trade deal with the U.S., even as President Donald Trump said it wouldn’t be part of negotiations.
Trump’s comment in June, that “everything is on the table” when discussing trade, opened the door to Corbyn’s main attack line against Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservatives in the run-up to the Dec. 12 vote.
But speaking on Tuesday at a press conference in London ahead of the NATO summit, Trump struck a very different tone on the NHS: “I don’t even know where that rumor started,” he said. “We have absolutely nothing to do with it and we wouldn’t want to if you handed it to us on a silver platter.”
Britain’s state-run NHS is always a key issue during election campaigns, yet the stakes are even higher this year as the U.K. prepares to leave the European Union. Johnson has made a free-trade deal with the U.S. a key goal for his government, and Corbyn has stoked voters’ fears that would mean increased privatization and greater access for U.S. drug companies in a way that would damage the free-to-use service.
Corbyn even wrote to Trump on Monday, saying any increase in the cost of drugs would be an “unacceptable” outcome of trade talks. The Labour leader has also published a previously redacted dossier containing the minutes of early U.S.-U.K. trade negotiations to bolster his case.
Johnson has repeatedly denied his government is negotiating with the U.S. over the NHS, and called Labour’s accusations “Bermuda Triangle stuff.” He repeated the same line during a campaign visit on Tuesday.
Even so, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab admitted a trade deal could mean the U.S. would be able to raise the costs of drugs bought by the NHS. Asked in a Sky News interview if Washington could “jack up the prices” of key drugs, Raab replied: “The Americans will take their decisions… I think it’s hugely unlikely. Why would they do that?”
The NHS row illustrates how risky Trump’s visit is to Johnson’s campaign, even after the U.S. president promised to “stay out of the election.” Trump has previously endorsed Johnson and further evidence of close ties between them has the potential to alienate some voters.
The Tories Secretly Fear Trump Could Wreck Johnson’s Election
Corbyn is showing no signs of backing down. In an interview with ITV on Tuesday morning, the Labour leader was pressed on reports his dossier may have been disseminated by a Russian-linked disinformation campaign. He responded that nobody in the government had questioned the documents’ accuracy or validity before the “new conspiracy theory.”
He also appeared to indicate he plans to stay on regardless of the election result next week. Asked if he would still be Labour leader at the end of the next parliamentary term even if he loses on Dec. 12, he replied: “I hope so, yes. I think I’m young enough, I still feel fit.”
That comment is likely to disappoint those within Labour who believe the party cannot win an election while he is leader. Corbyn has fended off many challenges from his own MPs, including a leadership challenge by Owen Smith in 2016. He decided to continue as leader following the 2017 election after his party unexpectedly gained seats — but not enough to form a government.
Corbyn also personally apologized for the allegations of antisemitism that have dogged Labour under his leadership, something he had refused to do in the campaign so far. “Obviously I’m very sorry for anything that’s happened,” he said. “But I want to make this clear: I’m dealing with it, I dealt with it.”
(Updates with Raab comment in seventh paragraph.)
To contact the reporter on this story: Greg Ritchie in London at email@example.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tim Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org, Stuart Biggs, Thomas Penny
For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com
©2019 Bloomberg L.P.