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Trade deal won't hit NHS - Cameron

Published 10/06/2015

Nigel Farage said the European Parliament had 'got the wind up'
Nigel Farage said the European Parliament had 'got the wind up'

There is "no way" a controversial EU/US trade agreement can have any impact on the National Health Service, David Cameron said as he urged critics to stop raising "false fears" and concentrate on securing the best deal.

The Prime Minister repeated his warning that every day of delay in the process cost the world economy £630 million and called for redoubled efforts to finalise the terms by the end of the year.

But a European Parliament debate and vote to endorse the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) was called off amid opposition from within the Socialists & Democrats group of MEPs.

While not formally required at this stage, the Parliament's backing is considered very important to progressing the deal.

Trade unions have led calls for a specific exclusion for the NHS, warning TTIP would otherwise open the health service to privatisation by US firms.

Labour has backed the deal but leadership contest front-runner Andy Burnham told GMB trade union members yesterday that his support was not guaranteed without stronger guarantees that the NHS would be protected.

In the Commons, interim Labour leader Harriet Harman pressed Mr Cameron to say whether he had sought specific assurances on the issue from US President Barack Obama at the weekend's G7 summit.

Protesters outside the summit venue in the Bavarian Alps warned that the deal would undermine safety and environmental standards and national health systems in Europe.

The PM told her: "The NHS is protected. There's no way a TTIP agreement can lead to changes in our NHS.

"I would make this suggestion to the Labour Party, instead of raising the profile of a threat that doesn't exist, it would be better if the whole of the UK political system could come together and push the Americans - instead of trying to seek false reassurances - to go further in putting more on the table so this trade deal really benefits working people in Britain."

Responding to similar concerns raised at question time by the SNP's Westminster leader Angus Robertson, he said: "T here is a real wasted opportunity in raising these false fears about potential privatisation of the NHS coming out of TTIP.

"In the English NHS it is the commissioners of services who will make decisions, and they invest over and over again in a National Health Service.

"In Scotland as you know, the only person who can privatise the NHS in Scotland is the Scottish Government.

"So instead of raising false fears, what we should be doing is putting on the table bold proposals for opening up American markets.

"So for instance the Scottish knitwear manufacturer I visited recently that suffers from massive tariffs and wants to be able to sell into the US, you should spend your time looking after those businesses and those jobs and fighting for them."

MEPs narrowly voted to postpone today's consideration of the EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) following the announcement that there would be no vote.

European Parliament president Martin Schulz said the delay was required because more than 200 amendments had been tabled that should be considered by the committee on international trade.

But critics hailed the move as a recognition of the growing strength of opposition to aspects of the proposed deal, including the potential impact on the NHS and other public services.

Ukip leader Nigel Farage said Brussels was "running scared".

"17 years as an MEP and never seen such public disquiet re an EU issue. The result? Debate and vote on TTIP suspended. They've got the wind up," he said.

Green Party MEP Keith Taylor said: "The decision to postpone the votes and debate on TTIP stinks of political parties in the European Parliament running scared of the huge public opposition to TTIP.

"TTIP represents a monumental power grab by corporations and it must be stopped in its tracks."

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: "People across Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England want the NHS out of TTIP and Cameron must be prepared to use his veto to get the NHS out.

"Every single political party across the UK supports an NHS carve-out with the exception of the Tories and the Liberal Democrats who have refused to back the demand. There is genuine and deeply-felt opposition to the NHS being part of a US trade deal."

Tory MEP Emma McClarkin said the postponement of the vote was "very disappointing".

"Labour and their allies have led a socialist shambles that started when they backed out of agreements made in good faith. It is also a coalition of the unwilling, with Ukip lining up with far-left and communist MEPs to attack TTIP."

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