The image of Theresa May arm in arm with Donald Trump symbolised all that Britain has given up by voting to leave the EU. It also represented the desperate future that may lie ahead for those who will suffer most from climate change, for migrants and refugees, for women, for the LGBTIQA+ community – and even for our National Health Service.
President Trump has advertised openly on more than one occasion that he is after one thing. Not, as the Prime Minister would like us to believe, a respectful relationship of equals, but an exploitative, abusive one, with the vastly more powerful partner free to take whatever he wants, whenever he wants it.
As the Conservatives march across the bridge of NHS privatisation built by Labour, May’s bid to draw closer to the new US President leaves our health service increasingly vulnerable to US corporations that want a piece of the action.
The NHS is a £120-billion pie, of which an £8.7-billion slice (7.6 per cent of the total) currently goes to private-sector providers. There are a lot of contracts to go round already. There’s little reason to imagine the number won’t increase.
After the Prime Minister spoke to Republican politicians at their annual retreat in Pennsylvania, Senator Todd Young of Indiana said he was “always looking for opportunities to open up foreign markets”. Indiana’s two largest companies are healthcare giant Anthem and Eli Lilly, a $20-billion pharmaceuticals provider. One of the biggest battles we will face in the coming years will be over trade with the US.
In March, Caroline Lucas challenged the Prime Minister over the controversial trade deal between the EU and Canada, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). Its Investment Court System allows companies to sue governments that pass policies that interfere with their profit-making. It may be a blueprint for Britain’s future negotiations with the US as the Prime Minster pursues her vision of the UK becoming an offshore tax-haven economy willing to engage in a race to the bottom on trade.
Putting forward a plan for good trade between countries must be front and centre of the progressive case to defend the NHS against further privatisation.