Nov 27, 2019

Corbyn accuses Tories of putting NHS "up for sale" in post-Brexit U.S. trade deal

Photo: Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images

Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the U.K.'s Labour Party, accused Boris Johnson's Conservative Party on Wednesday of putting the country's National Health Service "up for sale" during post-Brexit trade negotiations with the U.S., per the BBC.

Why it matters: Corbyn, facing criticism over accusations of anti-Semitism in his party, is trying to seize the message on a populist topic that plays to his party's strengths before the U.K. heads to the polls in a little more than two weeks.

The big picture: Labour released 451 unredacted pages of documents it said it obtained from six rounds of trade talks between the U.S. and the U.K. that took place between July 2017 and July 2019.

  • While the summaries cover a range of topics from farming to climate change, Corbyn focused on a request from the U.S. involving drug prices — namely, an extension on medical patents that could prevent generic drugs from being used.
  • Corbyn noted that President Trump often cites the low prices paid by foreign countries in his talking points about drug prices, suggesting that acquiescing to U.S. demands could drive up drug prices paid by the NHS.
  • As Axios' Caitlin Owens reported, Trump wants the U.S. to pay less than other countries for some prescription drugs covered by Medicare, which could indeed lead to fewer special deals on drug prices for individual countries.

Yes, but: The documents that Corbyn showcased don't actually show that the U.K. negotiators agreed to anything during the talks with the U.S.

  • Johnson has repeatedly denied that the NHS would be affected after Brexit, tweeting that it "will not be on the table for any trade negotiations."
  • That's a talking point from the Conservative manifesto for the upcoming general election, which adds: "The price the NHS pays for drugs will not be on the table. The services the NHS provides will not be on the table."

The bottom line: As the BBC's Laura Kuenssberg notes, "[W]hether any UK government would ever do a deal that made medicines much more expensive for the NHS, and therefore the taxpayer, which would be massively costly for the government and probably prove deeply unpopular, is a big political question."

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