Leaving the EU: Health Services and Legal Action

International Trade – in the House of Commons on 14th March 2019.

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Photo of Sandy Martin Sandy Martin Labour, Ipswich

What steps the Government are taking to prevent potential legal action by companies overseas in relation to the provision of health services in any future trade deals after the UK leaves the EU.

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade

The Government are considering their future approach to investor state dispute settlement. Where included in a trade agreement, ISDS will not oblige the Government to open the NHS to further competition, and overseas companies will not be able to take legal action to force us to do so.

Photo of Sandy Martin Sandy Martin Labour, Ipswich

The Secretary of State did not rule out the use of legal action against other companies in this country, so what message would he give to all those idealistic people who voted to leave the EU because they thought that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership would open us up to hostile lawsuits from US companies? Does he think that now that the truth is out they ought to have a chance for another vote?

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade

I am not sure what the connection was between some of those points. Let me be clear that, through ISDS, investment claims can be made only in respect of established investments; the mechanism cannot be used in relation to an alleged failure to open up public services to a potential investor. It could not be much clearer that what was being put about was a complete myth.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

What guarantees can the Secretary of State give us that pharmaceutical companies will not relocate to the EU, meaning that in effect more and more of our drugs would be imported? Will he give a guarantee that that will not happen?

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade

It would be absolutely ridiculous of any Minister to try to tell businesses what they can and cannot do. I can tell the hon. Gentleman, though, that last year foreign direct investment into the United Kingdom rose by 20%; in continental Europe, it fell by 73%. The hon. Gentleman should draw his own conclusions.

Photo of Stewart Hosie Stewart Hosie Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Trade)

In the recent debate on international trade, I cited two examples of the Canadian Government’s having to withdraw public health measures after legal challenges by businesses under the terms of the North American free trade agreement. When the Secretary of State is considering health protections in future UK FTAs, will he ensure that they go wider than direct NHS provision and encompass wider public health policy?

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade

We will look to replicate the success we have already had in bilateral investment treaties. UK investors have successfully brought around 70 cases against other Governments. No private company has ever brought a successful case against the United Kingdom in respect of our bilateral investment treaties.

Photo of Judith Cummins Judith Cummins Shadow Minister (International Trade)

The British public are clear that they do not want our national health service to be bargained away as part of trade negotiations, and they do not want foreign companies to have the right to sue our Government for decisions taken in the interests of public health, yet that is exactly what could happen if we accept ISDS and the negative-list approaches in the future agreements that the Government are proposing. Will the Secretary of State now rule out agreeing to a single clause of a single trade deal that could threaten our NHS?

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade

There are days when I genuinely have to thank God that the Labour party is the Opposition and not the Government of this country. We have £1.3 trillion of outward stock invested, including things like pension funds that British people will depend on for their prosperity. Were we to abandon the concept of investor-state dispute resolutions, what would happen to the protections for our investment overseas? The Labour party needs to start to think about the wider interests of this country.