POLITICS

David Cameron Caves To Tory Eurosceptic Pressure To Protect NHS From EU-US Trade Deal

Bid to avoid being defeat by Labour and Tory rebels

19/05/2016 18:28 | Updated 19 May 2016
PA/PA Wire

David Cameron has been forced to reprimand himself - for not including a bill in the Queen's Speech protecting the NHS from American privatisation.

In a desperate bid to avoid defeat by Tory Eurosceptics, Labour, and SNP MPs, Downing Street has accepted an amendment that 'regrets' he didn't publish legislation to stop the EU-US trade deal from harming the health service.

The move, forced on No.10 because of its tiny majority, prompted the Vote Leave campaign to declare that it was now clear the so-called Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) was a threat to the NHS.

Labour and trade unions have repeatedly warned that the free trade deal risks 'back-door privatisation' by forcing the UK to accept American private health firms taking contracts with the NHS.

More than 25 Tory MPs - including Iain Duncan Smith and Liam Fox - had vowed to join the Opposition in backing the amendment to the Queen's Speech to demand special protections.

The crunch vote had been set for next Wednesday - just a month before the EU referendum on June 23.

And because no Queen's Speech has been defeated since 1924, the Eurosceptics knew that they risked causing huge embarrassment to the Prime Minister.

Alastair Grant/PA Wire
Her Majesty presents the Queen's Speech, 2016

The amendment, first revealed by HuffPost UK, states that the Commons should “respectfully regret that a Bill to protect the National Health Service from the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership was not included in the Gracious Speech”.

The Government denies that the trade deal will have any impact on the NHS but after hours of confusion finally caved to prevent a Commons defeat on its landmark programme of bills.

A Number 10 spokesman said: “As we’ve said all along, there is no threat to the NHS from TTIP. So if this amendment is selected, we’ll accept it.”

But Labour MP Paula Sherriff said: “This is yet another humiliating climb-down by the government, and a victory for campaigners and MPs who have warned them about TTIP.

"They will now be the first government in history to official ‘regret’ their own programme within days of announcing it, just months after doing the same on their Budget.”

A Vote Leave source told HuffPost UK: "The key point is will they now legislate - or will they just ignore the will of Parliament?"

Signatories to the amendment include Labour’s Paula Sherriff, Jon Cruddas and Ian Mearns. Tories include Peter Lilley, Anne Marie Trevelyan and Steve Baker.

To underline the threat to Cameron’s 17-strong majority, Chris Stephens from the SNP has signed it too.

Baker said the Government move was a 'humiliating climbdown' and claimed: "The Government has today admitted that the EU is a threat to our NHS. The only way we can protect the NHS from TTIP is if we Vote Leave on 23 June."

This was strongly disputed by Downing Street.

Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

A defeat could be seen as a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister and would cause him huge embarrassment just weeks before the referendum.

Former Cabinet minister Peter Lilley said: "TTIP introduces special courts which are not necessary for free trade, will give American multinationals the right to sue our government (but not vice versa) and could put our NHS at risk. I cannot understand why the government has not tried to exclude the NHS."

Unite assistant general secretary, Gail Cartmail said: “Legal advice from a top QC shows that the NHS is at ‘serious risk’ from TTIP.  This threat has become a real issue in the EU referendum debate.

“The amendment gives MPs a unique opportunity to neutralise the NHS as an EU referendum issue and to protect our health service from irreversible privatisation. This is a chance that the UK cannot afford to miss. Once TTIP  is signed the UK will be locked into the deal for two decades."

Some 130 Tories backed a previous amendment to the 2013 Queen’s Speech, regretting the absence of an EU referendum bill.

A backbench Bill was then swiftly produced, although it got bogged down and never passed through Parliament.

The last time a Queen’s Speech amendment was successful was in 1924, when Labour tabled a motion of no confidence in Stanley Baldwin’s Conservative government.

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