Post-Brexit trade deals could undermine NHS, experts warn

By agency reporter
January 5, 2019

Trade deals with countries like the USA could do irreparable damage to health in post-Brexit Britain, warns a new briefing from campaign groups and health experts.

Campaigners including Health Poverty Action, Trade Justice Movement, Unison and Global Justice Now warn that a lack of transparency and planning, together with a desperation for trade deals post Brexit, could lead the government to accept demands from trade negotiators to open up the NHS to further privatisation.

In line with provisions increasingly common in trade deals, the authors are also concerned that future trade deals could drive up the cost of medicines and introduce impediments to a future government’s ability to introduce preventative health policy, such as laws to inhibit smoking. 

The report calls for the government to:

  • Ensure companies are not allowed to sue the UK for improvements to health care
  • Ensure provisions in trade deals do not drive up the cost of medicines
  • Exclude public services from trade deals
  • Ensure governments keep the ability to set standards in health care and ensure health care is available to all
  • Explicitly allow the use of the precautionary principle to protect public health

Natalie Sharples of Health Poverty Action said: “As the UK seeks to develop its own trade policy for the first time in a generation, the right to health must at the fore. This is vital to protect our NHS and to prevent the price of medicines skyrocketing in the UK, as well as to safeguard the health of people around the world with whom we trade. The government’s strategy must put health and rights first.”

Ruth Bergan of Trade Justice Movement said: “The lack of a clear strategy from the government for future trade deals is shocking. It is time the government set out in detail how it will ensure not only that trade deals do no harm but that they actively support UK commitments to ensuring good quality health care for people at home and around the world. As a first step, it should make legally binding provisions for trade deals to be subordinate to commitments under the Sustainable Development Goals.” 

Nick Dearden of Global Justice Now said: “Donald Trump has already made it perfectly plain that the cost of a quick trade deal with the US would be a more opened up NHS, higher medicine prices, which would also threaten NHS budgets, and less healthy food. As things stand, this could all be negotiated and signed behind closed doors before MPs and the public know what’s hit them. We must open up the trade process to real democracy and demand a clear strategy from the government on post-Brexit trade deals.”  

The report has been produced jointly by nine health and trade organisations: Health Poverty Action, Trade Justice Movement, Global Justice Now, STOP AIDS, People's Health Movement UK, War on Want, UNEM and Unison.

* Read Trading up for health: How to prevent trade deals  from undermining health here

* Global Justice Now https://www.globaljustice.org.uk/

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