Donald Trump has insisted the NHS must be “on the table” in any trade talks with the United States after Britain leaves the EU.
Following talks with Theresa May in Downing Street on the second day of his state visit, the president held out the prospect of a “phenomenal” deal that could potentially triple the volume of trade between the two countries.
At the same time, he made clear that there could be no limit to the scope of their discussions.
“I think everything with a trade deal is on the table,” he said.
“When you’re dealing in trade, everything is on the table – so NHS or anything else, a lot more than that, but everything will be on the table, absolutely.”
Mrs May appeared to be taken aback by his comments, retorting: “The point in making trade deals is of course that both sides negotiate and come to an agreement about what should or should not be in that trade deal for the future.”
Mr Trump’s remarks appeared to fly in the face of assurances by senior ministers including Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who have insisted the NHS would never be opened up to US providers.
Dear Mr President. The NHS isnât on the table in trade talks - and never will be. Not on my watch.— Matt Hancock (@MattHancock) June 4, 2019
Following the press conference, Mr Hancock tweeted: “Dear Mr President. The NHS isn’t on the table in trade talks – and never will be. Not on my watch.”
The talks took place as Jeremy Corbyn addressed thousands of demonstrators protesting against Mr Trump’s visit.
The Labour leader condemned the president’s attacks on London mayor Sadiq Khan, and vowed to resist any moves to allow private US companies to take over “our precious, wonderful” NHS.
“We will not stand for that. We will fight with every last breath of our body to defend the principle of a healthcare system free at the point of need for everybody as a human right,” he said.
Mr Trump brushed off his remarks, saying he did “not know him, never met him, never spoke to him” and that he had turned down an offer to meet him.
“He wanted to meet today or tomorrow and I decided I would not do that. I think he is from where I come from somewhat of a negative force,” he said.
A Labour spokesman said: “Jeremy is ready to engage with the president on a range of issues, including the climate emergency, threats to peace and the refugee crisis.”
Theresa May stood next to @realDonaldTrump as he said the NHS will be "on the table" in a US trade deal. And thatâs what Tory leadership contenders and Farage are lining up for the No Deal disaster capitalism plans they have.— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) June 4, 2019
They all need to understand: our NHS is not for sale.
After the pomp and circumstance of the state banquet on Monday, the second day of the president’s visit was dominated by politics.
Both leaders paid tribute to the enduring strength of the “special relationship” between their two countries based on “shared interests and values”.
Mrs May acknowledged their discussions had covered areas of disagreement between them – including Iran, China and climate change.
“I’ve always believed that co-operation and compromise are the basis of strong alliances and nowhere is this more true than in the special relationship,” she said.
Despite the apparent clash over the NHS, the president however largely sought to smoothe over any differences.
He said they were united in their determination to ensure Iran did not acquire nuclear weapons and insisted they would be able to resolve concerns over the potential involvement of Chinese tech giant Huawei in the UK’s 5G network.
“We’re gonna absolutely have an agreement on Huawei and everything else,” he said.
“We have an incredible intelligence relationship and we will be able to work out any differences.”
Despite thousands of demonstrators pouring on to the streets around Whitehall, Mr Trump again dismissed the reports of large-scale protests as “fake news”.
But with Mrs May’s time in Downing Street coming to an end, there was a clear sense that White House diplomacy was turning to her successor.
Sources close to Boris Johnson said he had a “friendly and productive” telephone call with the president but they were unable to arrange a time for a meeting.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove’s allies said he had been contacted by Mr Trump’s team with a view to arranging a meeting.
The president was asked about his contacts with Mr Johnson and Mr Gove – as well as fellow contender Mr Hunt, who was at the press conference.
“I know Boris. I like him. I have liked him for a long time. I think he would do a very good job. I know Jeremy, I think he would do a very good job,” he said.
He then turned to Mr Hunt and joked: “I don’t know Michael – would he do a good job, Jeremy?”