Jeremy Corbyn has urged the prime minister to break off trade talks with Donald Trump until any reference to pharmaceuticals is struck out of Washington’s negotiating objectives.
As the US president prepared to fly in on Monday evening to attend the Nato summit alongside other world leaders, Corbyn wrote to Boris Johnson to urge him to give fresh reassurances about NHS privatisation.
The Labour leader has repeatedly accused the prime minister of preparing to sell off the NHS, and Labour activists at recent rallies have taken up a chorus of “Not for sale! Not for sale!”
Johnson has described Labour’s claims as “total nonsense”. But in the letter, sent on Monday, Corbyn called on him to take a series of concrete steps to show he is serious.
These include bringing all services back in-house; repealing the Health and Social Care Act, and suspending trade talks until Washington changes its negotiating objectives.
Corbyn says Johnson should decline to press ahead with talks on a bilateral trade deal unless Trump excludes any reference to pharmaceuticals from US negotiating plans and accept the role of the regulator – the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) in setting drugs prices.
Washington’s negotiating objectives, a public document, include the demand that “state-owned enterprises” should “accord non-discriminatory treatment with respect to the purchase and sale of goods and services”.
It also calls for “full market access for US products”, for what it calls “government regulatory reimbursement regimes” for pharmaceuticals and medical devices.
Trump’s public appearances during his visit will be scrutinised closely for any comments about a future trade deal.
When he and Johnson met at the Biarritz G7 meeting in August, the US president lavished praise on Johnson, saying: “I’ve been saying it for a long time: he’s the right man for the job.” He has also criticised Corbyn in the past.
Labour hopes switching the debate back to the NHS will help it to persuade traditional supporters to stick with the party.
The Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey, acknowledged in an interview with HuffPost on Monday that Labour-held seats across the Midlands and the north were the party’s “achilles heel” at this general election.
“Our achilles heel is in our communities, in what’s known as our heartlands, that voted leave and are not quite sure yet whether they will give their vote to Labour,” he said.
“If we can engage people listening to what’s on offer, what type of Britain and country we want as we go into the future, then we are on a winner. It’s very much a question of how we do that, whilst at the same time tackling the very real issues we’ve got over Brexit and with Jeremy in some places.”
Some Labour candidates fear the party’s blizzard of generous spending pledges, the most recent being a 30% cut in rail season ticket prices, are raising questions among some voters about whether they could be delivered.
At a press conference last week, Corbyn produced 451 pages of uncensored documents, which showed that between July 2017 and July 2019, senior UK and US trade officials discussed the NHS, drug patents, the pharmaceutical industry, health insurance and medical devices as part of the post-Brexit trade deal.
Experts have warned that the documents show the US wants the UK to rip up the way it sets drug prices – potentially leading to billions of pounds a year in added costs for the NHS.