Tory Eurosceptic MPs are threatening to rebel on the Queen’s Speech unless David Cameron agrees to exempt the NHS from any EU-US free trade deal.
In an extraordinary challenge to the Prime Minister’s authority, more than 25 Tory MPs are set to join Labour to back an amendment giving the health service special status in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
Vote Leave sources pointed out to HuffPost UK that the last time a Government was defeated on a Queen’s Speech amendment was 1924 - and then premier Stanley Baldwin had to quit.
The crunch vote is set for next Wednesday - just a month before the EU referendum on June 23.
The amendment to the Queen’s Speech - which was tabled today and will formally be published tomorrow - 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”.
Signatories 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.
Labour and trade unions have long argued that the EU-US trade deal needs to specifically exempt the NHS from threat posed by private American healthcare companies.
Lilley, a former Trade and Industry Secretary, said: "I support free trade. But 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.
"I and other Tory MPs successfully lobbied to bring a failing private Surgicenter serving our constituencies back into the NHS. It would have been impossible or hugely costly under TTIP had there had been an American owner who could have sued the NHS in a TTIP Court."
A legal opinion commissioned by Unite has claimed the free trade deal would mean privatisation of elements of the NHS could become irreversible for future governments that want to restore services to public ownership.
And Labour Foreign Secretary Lord Owen, a leading Brexit campaginer, has said TTIP poses a ‘serious danger’ to the health service.
But several Brexit Conservatives also believe the deal is another example of Brussels riding roughshod over British concerns.
A Vote Leave source told HuffPost that there amendment was not an attempt to force the PM to resign, should he lose. "This is about important policy, not personalities."
However, 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.
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.
Baldwin - often cited by Cameron as one of his political heroes - resigned as prime minister and Ramsay MacDonald formed the first Labour government.