It was concerning that his initial response was, “Yeah, sure, the NHS—everything is on the table.” It was clawed back slightly the next day, but one wonders whether he understood what he said on the first day, or even what he said on the second day. The concerns out there among the public are very real, for the reasons I have set out. If we need to make up trade gains from the losses that almost every single forecast suggests we will have, it is hard to see how the NHS, or broader aspects of health, might not be included in some kind of trade deal.
The starting point for me is that we should not be contemplating exposing the NHS through trade deals, not least because the EU has made more trade deals with third countries than any other bloc, which we benefit from, and it has done so while protecting public services. It makes little or no sense to throw that away. The EU has protected public services such as the NHS in all trade negotiations. It has shown itself to be principled in its approach. Not only would we potentially lose access to those markets, but we do not have the means to replicate the agreements we already benefit from. Craig Mackinlay mentioned the Swiss deal, but it was of course not rolled over in its entirety. Indeed, a number of the reports that came out at the time said:
“The deal risks new limits on the export of agricultural products from the UK to Switzerland—for example, a possible ban on organic products…Switzerland may no longer recognise UK businesses as ‘authorised economic operators’, eligible for lighter controls at the Swiss border.”
At the same time, a second roll-over deal was announced—the Norwegian one—but while it included zero duty for industrial goods, it did not include services. It was described in the Norwegian press as a “crisis agreement”, and it did not cover technical regulations and rules for trade in food, animals or plants.
I mention those two because they highlight the UK’s weakness in the Brexit process. If we are not able to roll over in full with friendly countries with which we have long trading relationships, how on earth are the public expected to believe that we will be able to cut a deal with the USA to make up some of the losses from Brexit without having to sacrifice the NHS? On my last visit to the United States, I was told time after time that the UK will be required to put everything on the table, and the US will be required to put nothing on the table.