Hundreds of people are expected to hit the streets today in protest against the controversial TTIP trade deal currently being thrashed out by the European Union and the United States.
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) has garnered increasing controversy as critics fear that the deal would open up the health service to American private healthcare firms.
Protesters are set to rally in London's Parliament square and hang a banner from Westminster Bridge reading "Hands Off Democracy: #NoTTIP", as the 38 Degrees campaign group revealed that 180,000 people had backed a petition calling for the deal to be fixed or scrapped.
38 Degrees executive director David Babbs said: “Ordinary people have had enough of corporations bulldozing through our public services.
“This deal is a threat to the NHS: it would give multi-national corporations the rights to carve up our health service, and sue the government for loss of profits if they didn’t make enough money."
A YouGov survey commissioned by the group found that most Britons (54%) do not trust the British government to negotiate a good deal for the country in the trade talks.
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However, trade minister Lord Livingston said that TTIP talks "can't be sacrificed by misinformation and scare stories". Blogging on the Huffington Post UK, he said: "Huge numbers of people and many consumer groups as well as business organisations would like to see the TTIP negotiations succeed.
"Which? can clearly see the benefits it will bring consumers. The Federation of Small Businesses backs it, welcoming the help it will give members to access huge new markets. The Confederation of British Industry, and many, many more are rooting for this deal. And you should be too, for the £10 billion it could add to the UK economy each year."
Meanwhile, business secretary Vince Cable recently warned that the United States would "simply push ahead" with trade talks with Asian economies if TTIP negotiations fail.
Cable told HuffPostUK he was "genuinely baffled" by such fears about Britain's health service. "The only sense in which this is in any way relevant is that its design, as in the European single market, is to ensure that procurement is on a non-discriminatory basis," he said. "All that is envisaged for the health service is that principle of non-discrimination is extended."
The cabinet minister played down suggestions by his government colleague, health minister Earl Howe, that it would be "highly unwise and detrimental" to exclude the healthcare sector from TTIP trade talks.
"I think what he's driving at, and some people say it's not relevant why it isn't it explicitly ruled out, the reason is that there are health service providers in the UK who are exporting to the United States who run into 'Buy America' provisions and who want to be able to trade without discrimination."
"It's got nothing to do with allowing the Americans to interfere with our NHS - which is free at the point of use."
But critics say the government, despite its protestations, has failed to explicitly take the NHS off the negotiating table.
Len McCluskey, Unite General Secretary, said: “If TTIP presents no threat to our NHS, then why doesn’t the government simply exclude it? This secretive deal will lead to the irreversible sale of our NHS to American corporations.
“Under pressure from a groundswell of opposition, Lord Livingston finally admitted that the NHS is not exempt, but now the government are promising it is safe anyway. When two thirds of polled voters demand that the NHS be excluded, it’s clear nobody is going to be fooled by a promise from a Lib Dem.
“Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht has made it clear that the door is open for the government to exempt the NHS and now parties across the spectrum support vetoing health. The coalition stands alone."
Syed Kamall, leader of the Conservatives in the European Parliament, has previously poured scorn on the "myths' surrounding the TTIP negotiations.
Blogging on the Huffington Post UK, he wrote: "If the TTIP negotiations cover issues other than trade, it becomes known as a "mixed agreement" and will have to be ratified by the British Parliament.
"Democratic oversight and transparency is a core shared objective of the parties and Members of the European Parliament across the political spectrum are closely monitoring the different stages of the process in order to inform our citizens and to engage them in the process."