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Corbyn clashes with Tories over ‘secret’ US trade talks on NHS

Conservatives accuse the Labour leader of ‘out-and-out lying’ after he claims ‘uncensored’ papers show the NHS will be ‘on the table’.

Jeremy Corbyn holds what he said were ‘uncensored’ papers from US trade talks (Dominic Lipinski/PA)
Jeremy Corbyn holds what he said were ‘uncensored’ papers from US trade talks (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

By Gavin Cordon and Sophie Morris, PA Political Staff

Labour and the Tories have been involved in a furious clash over claims the Conservatives would put the NHS “up for sale” in a post-Brexit trade deal with the US.

Jeremy Corbyn dramatically produced what he said were 451 pages of “uncensored” government documents which, he said, showed the NHS would be “on the table” in talks with the Trump administration.

But the Tories hit back accusing the Labour leader of “out-and-out lying” – deliberately taking passages out of context from documents which had been publicly available online for weeks.

Boris Johnson, campaigning in Cornwall, described the Labour claims as “total nonsense” – insisting: “The NHS is not on the table in any way.”

Mr Corbyn made his claim at a press conference in London where he produced what he said was the full version of papers previously only released by the Government in redacted form.

He said the documents – covering six rounds of discussions between British and US officials – showed the talks were at a “very advanced stage”.

He said that on medicine pricing, the two sides had already concluded discussions on lengthening patents.

“Longer patents can only mean one thing – more expensive drugs. Lives will be put at risk as a result of this,” he said.

He added: “We have now got evidence that under Boris Johnson the NHS is on the table and will be up for sale.

“He tried to cover it up in a secret agenda and today it has been exposed.”

However, the Conservatives said that British officials were actually flagging a potential issue which needed to be avoided in future trade talks.

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(PA Graphics)

International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said the Labour leader was trying to create a smokescreen to deflect from difficulties over anti-Semitism and Brexit.

“Jeremy Corbyn is getting desperate and is out-and-out lying to the public about what these documents contain,” she said.

“He has always believed in conspiracy theories – which is why he has failed to crack down on the scourge of anti-Semitism in his party.”

The documents highlighted by Mr Corbyn – marked Official – Sensitive (UK eyes only) – cover talks between July 2017 and July 11 this year, two weeks before Mr Johnson entered Downing Street as Prime Minister.

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Liz Truss (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The Labour leader pointed to the readout of the second meeting, in which UK officials noted the “patent issues” around “NHS access to generic drugs will be a key consideration” in talks.

By the fourth meeting, he said, the officials on the two sides were ready to “exchange text” and to “really take significant further steps” – suggesting the negotiations were at a “very advanced stage”.

Mr Corbyn said the documents also made clear that for the US, “everything is included unless something is specifically excluded”, and that “total market access” was the “baseline assumption”.

Mr Corbyn said: “That’s a green light for breaking open Britain’s public services so corporations can profit from them.”

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(PA Graphics)

The Tories said the earlier meeting was simply a “preliminary conversation” and that UK officials had been been flagging up an issue to be avoided in future discussions.

They said the papers showed that US officials had “probed” the UK position on what they called the British “health insurance” system.

However the UK response made clear they would not want to discuss “particular healthcare entities” and that “we need to protect our needs” – comments which were said to reflect the position that the NHS was not “up for sale”.

The claim that the NHS would form part of a free trade deal with the US under the Tories has been one of Labour’s key attack lines in the General Election campaign.

The latest row came as a senior Labour frontbencher said the party was “sorry” for the hurt caused to the Jewish community over the way the party had dealt with complaints of anti-Semitism within its ranks.

Mr Corbyn was facing a backlash after he repeatedly refused during a TV interview on Tuesday to apologise for the way the party acted, despite a blistering attack on his record by the Chief Rabbi.

Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon told the BBC: “Of course we’re sorry for the hurt caused.

“Jeremy has apologised on a number of occasions and said that he’s sorry for the very real hurt felt by people in the Jewish community.”

Meanwhile, Mr Johnson apologised for the “hurt and offence” caused by Islamophobia within Conservative ranks.

“Of course we do,” held told reporters when asked whether he would offer an apology.

“All that is intolerable and it’s so important as a country that we don’t allow that kind of thing, and that’s why we’re going to have the independent inquiry.”

PA

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