TTIP, the NHS, and the Queen’s speech.


This week my conservative colleague Peter Lilley put forth an amendment to the Queen’s speech regarding the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the NHS.

The text of the amendment was as follows:

At end add ‘but 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.’.

I gladly supported this amendment and it had such widespread crossbench support that the Government chose to accept it.

Peter Lilley MP, the only surviving member of the House to have actually negotiated a trade treaty (the Uruguay round in the 1990’s), spoke in favour of his amendment on Monday, brilliantly summarising some of the issues with TTIP.

He began:

My main concerns relate to the investor-state dispute settlement system. That creates a system of tribunals—special courts—in which foreign multinationals can sue Governments, including the British Government, but the British Government cannot sue them, nor can British companies use those courts should they wish to.

 

The British and EU Governments have denied that such suing is possible, but a cogent counsel’s opinion argues that, because these tribunals can award unlimited fines, and have different evidence criteria from British courts, they could, at the very least, exert “a chilling effect” on Government decision making.

 

I found an example in my own constituency that illustrates the problem that could arise if TTIP were in force. A surgicentre, privately owned, set up by Tony Blair and working alongside the NHS Lister hospital in Stevenage, which serves my constituents, ran into terrible problems…We lobbied that it should be brought back into the NHS, and we were successful.

 

However, had TTIP been in force and the company fallen into the hands of an American health company—most private hospitals in this country are now American-owned—the company could have sued the local NHS for taking back that service. At the very least, it might have won massive damages. It might even have been able to prevent that from happening entirely. Even if it had lost, the case would have cost the local health service a massive sum, because the average cost of these cases is $8 million. It seems to me that Members should be very cautious about signing up to a treaty that might have such a consequence.

He then goes on to acknowledge the EU referendum dimension:

First, the only absolutely certain way of preventing it is of course not to be part of it—by leaving the EU on 23 June. We might be able to exempt ourselves or to prevent the treaty from going ahead if we remain in, but that is far from certain…If we were outside, we could negotiate our own deal with the United States, which I hope would not need any such system of courts. Why should America need such courts to invest in this country or for us to invest in the United States? That deal would require a stripped-down and far simpler Bill, and it would be far quicker and easier to negotiate.

 

Some people have said, “But President Obama has said we won’t be allowed to negotiate a deal and we’ll have to go to the back of the queue”, but the House of Commons Library has revealed that there is no queue. After the negotiation of TTIP, there are no countries with outstanding negotiations with the US. Not only was President Obama trying to bully us, but he was doing it on the basis of a bluff. We will be not only at the end of the queue but at the front of it, and we will no doubt be able to negotiate with his successor.

Peter’s full speech can be found here.

The Independent also wrote an interesting article here about TTIP negotiations and how, prior to their leaking, the negotiations had been subject by the European Commission to a 30 year ban on public access to the negotiation texts.

It is clear, that whatever your political leanings, TTIP raises serious issues about privatisation, competition and the apparent secrecy within which the EU is negotiating. The only way we can avoid TTIP is to vote leave on June 23rd.

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