TTIP opponents fuelled by 'anti-Western, anti-US' agenda, claims Tory MP
Opponents of a major EU-US trade treaty are fuelled by an "anti-Western, anti-US" agenda and are leading a dishonest debate full of unsubstantiated claims, a Tory MP has said.
Guto Bebb dismissed claims that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) will lead to the privatisation of the NHS and said concerns over secrecy do not stand up to scrutiny.
The deal includes plans for investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) which would allow corporations to take legal action against a country if their profits are threatened and have led to warnings of "secret courts".
Campaigners also fear TTIP could lead to parts of the NHS being privatised but the Government has insisted the deal will boost British businesses and pose no threat to the NHS.
Mr Bebb, who heads up the all parliamentary group on TTIP, said concerns about ISDS had been "demolished", adding that a detailed letter from the European trade negotiation to the Health Select Committee made clear there was no threat to the NHS.
During a backbench debate on the issue, he went on: "It says quite categorically 'all publicly funded public health services are protected in EU trade agreements and this approach will not change for TTIP'.
"That does bring us I think back to the crux of the issue... that there is a concern that this debate seems to be about the fact that this is an agreement with the United States of America.
"I state very clearly as the secretary of the all party group - I have had literally thousands of emails from all parts of the United Kingdom accusing me of all sorts of skullduggery in relation to this proposed trade deal."
The Aberconwy MP went on: "Not a single email was ever sent to me about the deal with Canada, described unfortunately I would say as a trojan horse for TTIP, not a single email was sent about that agreement.
"It is therefore very difficult not to conclude that this is not about trade, this is not about the health service, this is about a latent anti-Western, anti-US agenda which I find frankly disreputable.
"So I think we really have dishonest debate in relation to this issue, we have claims being made that are not substantiated, we have accusations of secrecy which do not stand up to scrutiny."
Meanwhile, Labour's Geraint Davies (Swansea West) said the ISDS proposal should be removed from the controversial trade agreement.
Mr Davies said: "My point about TTIP isn't to burn it, shoot it, get rid of it, it is actually to pull the teeth, the ISDS teeth, out of the wolf and actually genetically edit it so that we actually have environmental imperatives in it, we have enforceable rights at work, we have human rights, so it is a blueprint for future global trade rather than a blueprint for environmental and human rights and other destruction."
Mr Davies said ISDS "favours the private sector, not the public interest or the natural habitat, so we need to strip it out of TTIP".
"Another issue of course with ISDS is basically that it can in essence trump national law and also trump previous national law," he said.
Mr Davies also stressed the need for "environmental imperatives" from the Paris climate change talks to be integrated into trade agreements.
He warned that failure to do so could mean "sleepwalking into environmental oblivion".
"We need trade laws to be trumped by what comes out of Paris in a legally binding and enforceable way," he said.
"That is not happening at the moment."
The cross-party motion being debated by MPs calls for TTIP and other trade agreements to be subject to full parliamentary scrutiny.
SNP MP Peter Grant (Glenrothes) said: "We have to ask ourselves who free trade is there to benefit - is it there to benefit a handful of major corporations, is it there to benefit a handful of well placed people with the ear of particular governments, or is it there to benefit the citizens who produce the wealth of all those businesses?
"I know where my loyalties would lie and at the moment I am not at all convinced free trade as envisaged in TTIP is going to give the benefits back to the correct place."
Conservative Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) said: "This nonsense that has been perpetuated about the risk of TTIP to the NHS is fairly shameful. It's about trying to present an image to people in this country that big, bad, nasty American healthcare providers that are all about profit are going to come in and sweep up the NHS for private profit.
"Nothing could be further from the truth as has been made clear by US negotiators. The US negotiator made the clear TTIP is not a way of the US trying to get access to the publicly funded healthcare system in the UK - he specifically used the UK.
"The EU trade negotiator is very clear we don't need any extra protections because it is wholly excluded already - whether that is privately provided, charitable sector provided, publicly provided, it is protected.
"So when people run around campaigning about TTIP and raising some legitimate concerns, which there have been, about the process... the one thing they must not do is frighten people that what this is about is somehow American businesses coming in an destroying the NHS."
Helen Goodman, Labour MP for Bishop Auckland, questioned the economic case used to support TTIP.
She said Government estimates suggest each person in the UK will benefit to the tune of £110 a year.
"That would be about £2 a week," she said.
"Well, £2 a week more, it's very nice to have, I'm sure we would all rather have £2 a week than not have £2 a week.
"But if the price that has to be paid is a loss in terms of working conditions, labour standards, potential improvements in the national minimum wage, the national living wage, then these are not benefits which are in practice going to accrue to ordinary people in this country.
"That is why people have doubts about this."
Ms Goodman said the "big downside" of TTIP is the "loss of sovereignty" related to the ISDS proposals.
Labour's Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) said TTIP must be "opposed with all possible force as a dangerous attempt to negate meaningful democracy".
"It's designed simply to hand economic power to global corporations and to prevent democratically elected governments from acting in the interests of their peoples," he said.
The SNP's Ronnie Cowan (Inverclyde) said a "lack of transparency" surrounding TTIP negotiations had resulted in "widespread public scepticism" about the agreement.
For the Labour front bench, Kevin Brennan said: "We believe it is right this important issue is debated in Parliament and we agree these proposals deserve proper scrutiny both at an EU and UK level.
"Labour supports trade agreements which can bring significant benefits through boosting trade and growth, securing and creating jobs, and bringing down costs and extending choice for consumers.
"But we do want to hear the Government's response to legitimate concerns that have been raised in the House today about TTIP."
Replying for the Government, Business Minister Anna Soubry said: "This is an important trade agreement and it is all about free trade. It will bring huge benefits to the economy of this country.
"We have heard mention quite rightly of independent assessments that say the benefit to the United Kingdom economy is somewhere in the region of £10 billion - that's a real benefit to everybody and we have many examples of previous treaties."
Ms Soubry dismissed concerns about the investor-state dispute settlement arrangements, insisting 20 treaties containing similar rules had been agreed by the Labour government.
She added: "We have a great record of creating the right environment in the United Kingdom for investors and for treating them fairly. We have over 90 such agreements in place with other countries and there has never been a successful claim brought against the UK."
The minister said: "TTIP is not a secret negotiation. It is there for everybody to read on the internet and it is reaching the right conditions.
"When it is concluded, it will be for this chamber to ratify it. It will come here. There will be 21 days when it will lie here. At that point, any MP can lay down a motion, put it before this House to reject it.
"But I hope when that day comes they will accept this agreement because it is about free trade and it is the right thing to do."
The backbench motion was accepted unopposed.