EVESHAM’s MP has defended his decision to vote against a proposed clause in the Trade Bill which opposition parties said would protect the NHS against future post-Brexit trade deals.
Nigel Huddleston said it was important he moved to clear up ‘misleading claims’ over the purpose of the legislation which made it through the latest House of Commons stage last week.
Clause 17 proposed for the Trade Bill by Green Party MP Caroline Lucas and backed by Labour leader Keir Starmer was defeated by 340 – all Conservative – votes to 251.
The amendment was aimed at committing the Government to providing a comprehensive and publicly funded health service which would not only be free at the point of delivery, but also not compromised by any future trade deals.
It also included protecting NHS staff from having wages or rights taken away by any future trade deals, ensuring the quality and safety of health and care services was maintained and regulating the control and pricing of medicines.
Other lines included preventing patient data from being sold on and protecting the NHS from ‘investor-state dispute settlements’ where foreign investors can sue governments for measures which harmed profits.
Mid Worcestershire Labour Party acting chair Steve Ainsworth, said: “It is shocking all our local MPs voted to open the way to selling off parts of our NHS, especially after hypocritically praising its workers so loudly.”
He also criticised test and trace contracts being handed to Deloitte and Serco, adding it should have been the responsibility of properly resourced local Public Health departments’.
“It is baffling to see how leaving this great public asset open to profit-hungry corporations in any way constitutes ‘taking back control’ – the Conservative’s favourite Brexit slogan.”
But the MP claimed it was disingenuous to claim the legislation could affect any new free trade agreements and the way it had been portrayed could lead to misunderstandings among the public.
Mr Huddleston said: “Contrary to how the opposition have portrayed it, this Trade Bill is a continuity Bill, and it cannot be used to implement new free trade agreements with countries such as the US.
“Rather, the Trade Bill is designed to enable the free trade agreements that the EU had signed with third countries before the UK exited to transition.
“Our NHS is already protected by specific carve outs, exceptions and reservations in these trade agreements.”
He claimed the Government had consistently made it clear that when trade deals were being negotiated, the NHS would not be on the table.
“We’ve made it clear that in future negotiations the price the NHS pays for drugs will not be on the table, the services the NHS provides will not be on the table and we will protect our right to regulate our public services.
“The Trade Bill cannot be used to implement future trade deals.
“It was absolutely not about the content of future trade deals and the future of the NHS, and it is misleading to claim otherwise.”