‘A plot against the whole country’ declared Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as he brandished a wad of leaked documents last week which he said proves that the UK National Health Service would indeed be ‘on the table’ when it came to US trade talks. Corbyn said the NHS was ‘up for sale’ if the Conservatives were to win the December election whereas Labour would ‘never let Donald Trump get his hands on our NHS’. Arguably it was a strategic move on Corbyn’s part to counter the previous day’s disastrous interview with the infamous Andrew Neil, but regardless its motivation, the exposure of the dossier was a blow to the Conservatives who have also recently lost their significant lead against Labour in the polls – down to just nine points.
The accusations that Boris Johnson is not telling the whole truth over Trump and the NHS come at a time when the UK Prime Minister is facing questions over his record on lying. He had repeatedly denied that the NHS would be included in any trade discussions with the Trump administration, and had previously issued a version of the 451 page document, but with many pages blacked out. However the Labour leader said that, as a result of the leak, Johnson’s denials of such a deal with Trump were now ‘left in tatters’.
The Tory party has dismissed the documents as being significant, claiming they were simply readouts from meetings of the UK-US trade and investment working group (which reportedly took place from July 2017 till a couple of months ago). They attacked Corbyn by saying he was trying to divert attention from the issue of anti-semitism in his party. However there are some serious implications from the leaked papers which cannot be ignored.
Firstly, there is the issue of patenting, which could have a considerable impact on the pricing of medicines. Jeremy Corbyn indicated that discussions regarding a lengthening of patents had already been concluded between the sides, which would mean more expensive drugs. He gave the example of Humira, a drug used to treat Crohn’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis: ‘It costs our NHS £1,409 a packet. In the US, the same packet costs £8,115. Get the difference: £1,409 in our NHS, £8,115 in the USA,’ Corbyn said. Furthermore, he went on to explain that one of the reasons for US drug prices being so high in comparison to the UK, was that there was a patent regime ‘rigged for the big pharmaceutical companies.’
BBC journalist Andrew Neil attempted to suggest in an interview with Shadow International Trade Secretary, Barry Gardiner, that drug patents did not in fact amount to the ‘sale of the NHS’ and that there was ‘no evidence in the documents whatsoever’ that the NHS was included in the trade deal negotiations. However Gardiner hit back, stating that it was “A ridiculous and naive thing for you to say, and you are too smart a journalist for me to allow you to get away with it”. Gardiner went further to say that although it was not explicitly mentioned in the documents, the implication was made by the references to pharmaceutical services – which of course the Labour party want to bring strictly under government control if they are elected to power.
A second take-away from the documents, according to Jeremy Corbyn, is that the US prefers a No Deal Brexit. “There would be all to play for in a no-deal situation but UK commitment to the customs union and single market would make a US-UK [free trade agreement] a non-starter,” they read. The Conservatives have made light of this however, saying that it was ‘simply fact’ that it wouldn’t be possible to strike a free-trade deal with Trump if the UK were to remain in the single market and customs union.
But with lie upon lie being exposed by journalists and commentators, it’s now proving increasingly difficult to trust a word uttered by the Conservative leader and his party at present. The mantra seems to be ‘Say whatever with as much confidence and bluster as possible, and people will believe you.’ Take for example several of Johnson’s key lines: ‘Get Brexit Done’, ‘20,000 more police officers’ and ‘50,000 more nurses’. They may sound fantastic, but once you dig a bit deeper you realise it’s not worth taking them at face value. Firstly, ‘Get Brexit done’ we’ve heard before – Johnson promised to have the UK leave the EU October 31st ‘come what may’ – but did not deliver it. How is one to therefore to believe he will deliver on this now? As for the 20,000 new police officers – this is extremely misleading as the Conservative party was responsible for taking around 21,000 police off the streets in recent years. And the ‘50,000 more nurses’ myth has been doing the rounds on social media of late as journalists have taken on key Conservatives ministers over the fact that 19,000 of the 50,000 are in fact nurses currently working in the NHS. So the figure is far from accurate.
But will such falsehoods be enough to dissuade a disgruntled British electorate from voting for Boris Johnson? With just over a week to go before the election, everything’s to play for…