"The NHS is not on the table: it never has been, it never will be" - Conservative MP Chris Clarkson explains vote against Trade Bill amendment

Date published: 24 July 2020

Heywood and Middleton’s Chris Clarkson was amongst Conservative MPs who rejected an amendment to the Trade Bill on Monday (20 July), which has been broadly publicised as ‘voting against protecting the NHS’.

One of the 340 MPs who voted down the amendment, Mr Clarkson has explained why he voted against the amendment, which he says was “unnecessary” as the NHS is already protected from being sold.

The amendment tabled by the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas – New Clause 17 – said it would “aim to protect the NHS and publicly funded health and care services in other parts of the UK from any form of control from outside the UK.”

The amendment also included assertions that the ability to provide a free-at-the-point-of-delivery service would not be compromised in any trade deal, staff would not have wages cut, pricing of medicine would be controlled and patient data would not be sold off.

It received 251 votes in its favour, including that of Rochdale MP, Labour's Tony Lloyd.

Mr Clarkson told Rochdale Online: “The Trade Bill is a continuity Bill, and it cannot be used to implement new free trade agreements with countries.

“What the Trade Bill is designed to do is to enable the free trade agreements that the EU had signed with other countries before Brexit to be transitioned in to UK law. As was the case while we were a member of the EU, the NHS is protected by specific carve-outs, exceptions and reservations already in these trade agreements. Twenty continuity agreements have already been signed, retaining all of these protections for the NHS.

“Liz Truss as International Trade Secretary, the Prime Minister and lots of other members of the Government have said on multiple occasions that the NHS is not on the table in any future trade agreements which the UK is involved in. It never has been, it never will be.

“That being the case, New Clause 17 was unnecessary in legislative terms and added nothing to existing protections. It was a political stunt, nothing else.

“There have been a lot of dishonest claims from political activists claiming that this was a vote to not protect the NHS or even to sell it off. That is a flat-out lie, made worse by the fact that the people telling it know that.”

Mr Clarkson continued: “We should be absolutely clear that there is a process of parliamentary scrutiny in place to double up the checks and balances on Government and ratify any new trade agreements. In 2010 Parliament passed the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 or CRAG as it is known and Parliament retains, through the CRAG process, the right to block any treaty from being ratified.

“In addition, trade agreements cannot by themselves make changes to our domestic law. Any legislative changes required as a result of trade agreements would be subject to the separate scrutiny and approval of Parliament in the usual ways, similar to those in place in Canada but further than the arrangements in countries such as Australia and New Zealand, where Parliament cannot directly block ratification of a trade treaty.”

He concluded: “In summary, the NHS is protected from trade agreements, it is not on the table for discussion anyway, and if by some bizarre loophole it ended up there, Parliament could block it and almost certainly would.

“I am here to be held to account for, and to answer honest questions on Government policy. I am not here to indulge ill-informed nonsense, dishonesty and misinformation from political activists with an axe to grind.”


Tony Lloyd MP
Tony Lloyd, MP for Rochdale, voted in favour of the amendment


Explaining why he voted for the amendment, Mr Lloyd said: “Is our NHS up for sale? Very few people in Rochdale or across our country think it should be. But that was the big question Parliament was asked to vote on this week when Keir Starmer and Labour put down an amendment to the Trade Bill which, if it was agreed to, would make it legally beyond doubt that any Trade Bill could not allow our NHS to be put up for grabs in any trade negotiations.

“Seems like a no-brainer really. And yet Tory MPs flocked to vote against this. I was surprised that Tory whips were so persuasive or Tory MPs so persuadable.

“So why is Labour worried? The biggest health care industry in the world is the United States’ version and it’s overwhelmingly private. It’s now the biggest industry in America and last year spent a staggering $300 million lobbying and fighting in the interest of its profits. With trade negotiations taking place between the UK and the United States, we know part of the American healthcare industry has its eyes on parts of the NHS. There would be rich pickings.

“Imagine each time our local hospitals had to introduce a new medical service or purchase new drugs or equipment they had to go out to tender to the US health giants, we’d soon be at their mercy. Imagine if the US healthcare giants could legally challenge purchase decision under competition law, it would tie our NHS in knots. And all that would be about making profit the driving force and not health need. We don’t want it and we don’t need it.

“Tory MPs tell us that Boris Johnson has promised he’ll not privatise our NHS or let it fall into foreign hands. That depends on how far you trust Boris Johnson or his successors and like many, I would sooner trust the law of the land. A private, profit driven NHS is just too scary.

“So my promise as long as I am a Member of Parliament, is that I’ll do everything I can to oppose our NHS being put up for grabs to make profits for privateers here or from America. I expect all MPs to do the same.”

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