Nick Clegg has moved to calm campaigners worried about the proposed EU-US trade deal – the transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP) – saying the government would secure written guarantees that it would not threaten the NHS.
The deputy prime minister said he would ensure the UK maintains its sovereign right to run the NHS, amid fears the deal could allow private US health corporations the ability to mount legal challenges over the right to bid for contracts.
He said he would not endorse TTIP unless it was “absolutely crystal clear that we are allowed to do exactly what we want with our public services, with our cherished NHS, without being undermined by TTIP”.
Speaking at a debate with students organised by Bite the Ballot, Clegg said: “We, as a government, are making sure that is clearly there in writing by the EU negotiators and the European commission for us to see, that there is no threat to the NHS, which I know is a fear that has been raised.
“I would never endorse TTIP if that were the case. I think that if I want my children and my grandchildren, if I want future generations to live in a world where the standards are set by our hemisphere, in Europe and across the Atlantic in America, and not just all set on the other side of the planet in Asia or Latin America, then having America and Europe sort out some things together, I think, is in the long term-interests for us as we all move ever more in this globalised world.
“But it cannot, must not, and will not happen at the expense of our sovereign right to run the NHS the way we want.”
Clegg is among many politicians who have found the issue of the TTIP raised on the doorstep by potential voters following a huge grassroots campaign to raise awareness about possible problems with the deal.
His intervention on the issue is in marked contrast to the rhetoric of David Cameron, who counts the TTIP deal as a major priority for Britain and the EU.
The government has refused to exclude the NHS from the provisions of the TTIP on the grounds that it will not affect the health service at all.
Campaigners fear that a controversial investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) clause will allow private companies to sue the government bodies if they are prevented from making profits.
Labour has promised to exempt the NHS from TTIP, saying the right of governments to legislate for legitimate public policy objectives should be protected effectively in any dispute resolution mechanisms.
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