Is our NHS under threat from The Trade Bill

published 25/08/20 

On  July 20th, MPs George Eustice and Derek Thomas voted with the government to defeat three important amendments linked to a future Trade Bill.

The first amendment was about protection of the NHS, the Health and Care Sector and Public Sector Workers.

The second amendment was an attempt to legally bind government to maintain existing foods and environmental standards.

The third amendment, probably even more crucial than the first two, was an attempt to ensure that parliamentary MPs would have the final say on any trade deal negotiated by the government.

NB. The EU, US and Japan all allow a final vote on the ratification of trade deals.

The backbench Conservative MP Jonathon Djanogly, who led the third amendment, said afterwards, "Not only has this not ended up in the Bill, but the government’s position has seemingly reverted to having less scrutiny than we did as a member of the EU".

Because of the impact this Trade Bill could have on the health and well being of the people of West Cornwall, we wrote to both local MPs and we now share our letter and their replies here.

 To George Eustice MP and Derek Thomas MP

 “All of us in West Cornwall HealthWatch have been saddened and concerned to learn that you voted on 20th July against an amendment which was designed to protect the NHS from being subject to any form of control from outside the UK in a future post-Brexit trade deal.

This amendment also contained other measures to protect our NHS, including:

  • Ensuring that the ability to provide a comprehensive and publicly funded health service  ‘free at the point of delivery’ would not be compromised by any future trade deal.
  • Protecting NHS staff from having their employment rights and remuneration agreements downgraded by any future trade deal.
  • Protecting safety and quality standards.
  • Protecting the regulation of control and pricing of medicines.
  • Preventing the selling of patient data.
  • Protecting so-called investor state dispute settlement clauses (ISDS), which allow foreign investors to sue national governments for any measures which might harm their profits.

We would be grateful if you could identify which parts of the amendment you disagreed with, and set out your reasons for voting down an amendment which would seem very much in keeping with the philosophy of ‘ taking back our sovereignty’.”

We heard from Derek Thomas as follows: 

There seems to be a problem with your subject heading. It was not an NHS Bill, it was a trade bill that relates to our ability to trade beyond January 1st next year which I assume you are in favour of. There was no vote on a particular trade agreement. When trade agreements are made Parliament retains the right to veto them and block any changes to primary legislation.

The fact that an amendment exists that seems plausible does not mean that it is necessary or appropriate to the particular legislation being drafted. 

Please find below a piece I drafted after the votes in Parliament to answer your question:

Passing the Trade Bill presents no greater risk to the NHS than already exists. The Trade Bill, put simply, allows us to trade beyond December and lets us develop new trade agreements. The NHS is a free to use at the point of use universal service and is strongly protected by UK legislation. A trade agreement or foreign power cannot change UK primary legislation. The Conservative manifesto and numerous public statements by the Government make it clear that the NHS is not, and never will be, ‘for sale’ and trade deals will not erode the UK’s control over our NHS. The House of Commons Library, which produces impartial analysis and research, outlines the issues at hand and addresses the Government’s very firm, unwavering position on this - you can read more here:

We also heard from George Eustice as follows:

Thank you for your email regarding the NHS and international trade, I apologise for the delay in responding to you.
Like you, I value our National Health Service and its guiding principles: that it is universal and free at the point of need. The Government has been repeatedly clear that our NHS will never be on the table in any trade agreements, a position I fully support.
Free trade is a driver of economic growth which can raise incomes, create jobs, and lift people out of poverty, which is why I am glad that outside of the EU the UK will be able to strike new trade agreements with countries across the globe. But more trade should not come at the expense of the high levels of quality and protection enjoyed in our country.
The UK will continue to ensure that the NHS is protected in all trade agreements it is party to, whether transitioned from an EU context or as a result of new negotiations. Indeed, outside of the EU, rigorous protections for our NHS will be maintained and included in any future trade agreement to which our country is party.
I want to be clear that the NHS will be protected in any future trade agreement with the US. The price the NHS pays for drugs will not be on the table, and nor will the services the NHS provides.
With specific regard to investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanisms in trade agreements, I understand the Government has been thinking carefully about its future approach. However, it is important to note that ISDS does not, and cannot, force the privatisation of public services or oblige the Government to open the NHS to further competition. There is also yet to be a successful ISDS claim against the UK and nor has the threat of potential disputes affected the Government’s legislative programme.
I hope this reassures you that all future trade agreements will continue to protect our vital NHS, and I thank you for taking the trouble to get in touch.


We in West Cornwall HealthWatch remain very concerned about the threat to our cherished NHS, and will continue to campaign to reclaim and then maintain its integrity as a national health service for us all.