This morning David Owen gave a speech in which he claimed that Britain needs to leave the EU to protect the our Health Service. I have great respect for his work on the NHS but I disagree with Owen about leaving the EU - which will not remove the real threat to our health service. The thrust of his argument is that our health service is under threat from the European Union because of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) - a mammoth trade deal being negotiated between the EU and the USA. TTIP is indeed dreadful and must be opposed by all of us fighting for our NHS but leaving the EU doesn't rid us of the threat of damaging trade deals.
Just imagine for a second that we did exit the EU- leaving the Tories in charge of negotiating our trade deals with the rest of the world. The UK has, in the past, signed a number of bilateral deals that include the dreaded investor state dispute mechanism (ISDS) which allows companies to sue states for risking their 'future profits' - and which threatens our health service. Indeed the Tory Government is a major driving force for TTIP - and David Cameron is one of the deal's top cheerleaders.
If we left the EU, then we could be left with the Government negotiating trade deals with the rest of the world. What then? With the Tories still in charge, we could then expect the roll out of multiple TTIPs on steroids as Britain negotiated trade deals with countries across the world. Each of these deals could include an ISDS - thus potentially allowing companies from to sue our Government for protecting public services. That doesn't sound like safety for our NHS to me.
Mounting pressure from citizens, campaigners and politicians across Europe has successfully forced the EU to open up TTIP to more scrutiny. Eventually, our MEPs and MPs will vote on the final deal. We can stop TTIP but to do so we need to make sure our elected representatives know that they will not get away with waving TTIP through.
You only have to look at the recent history of our Health Service to see where the real danger lies. Starting a quarter of a century ago a marketplace was introduced into the NHS - a process which was accelerated by the last Labour Government and put into overdrive by the Coalition with the Health and Social Care Act of 2012.
We're now seeing our NHS changing at a terrifying pace. Many services have been handed to private companies such as Virgin, Serco and the US giant United Health, all hiding behind the NHS logo. In the past five years there has been a 50% increase in the amount spent by local health bodies on non-NHS providers. All of this damage is being done by a Government on an ideological mission to carve up our public services.
A solution to the crisis in our NHS is available - and it would work whether we are in or out of the EU. Like me, David Owen is a proponent of the NHS Reinstatement Bill - which would restore the NHS to being a public service. The Reinstatement Bill explicitly prohibits ratification of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership without the approval of Parliament. So there is a legal way of saying TTIP shall not apply to health services and to protect the NHS from being trumped by trade rules. Parliament can and must assert its competence - and we don't need to leave the EU to do so.
Coincidentally, or not, it was a group of Tory Brexiteers who conspired to 'talk out' the NHS Bill when it came to Parliament last month - meaning MPs never had a chance to properly debate or vote on the legislation. One of them - Philip Holobone - even wore a 'Grassroots Out' tie while he spent over an hour wittering on to stop Parliament debating the future of the health service.
Whatever happens on 23 June the NHS will still be in the hands of the Tories come the morning of the 24th. And, if we walk away, our trade deals will be solely in their hands too.
There is no question about the greatest threat facing our NHS. It comes in the form of pro-privatisation politicians passing damaging domestic legislation which cripples our health service.
Our NHS can be saved by the NHS Reinstatement Bill - there is huge and growing support for the Bill to keep our NHS public. The Bill's backers include the BMA, Unite, (with 100,000 members in the NHS), the President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, as well as great activists like Harry Leslie Smith, a raft of famous faces and many, many local NHS campaigners - that is where our efforts to save our NHS must lie.
Caroline Lucas is the Green MP for Brighton PavilionSuggest a correction