Not what facts prove
“The reality is that the NHS is on the table for any trade deal with Trump after Brexit, putting US profits before UK patients” is Rosie Coopers’ sound-bite.
And now Jeremy Corbyn says 451 pages of leaked documents from Whitehall were evidence that Boris Johnson was putting the NHS “up for sale” in post-Brexit trade talks with the US.
But writing today after combing through the documents, Victoria Hewson
lawyer and head of regulatory affairs at the Institute of Economic Affairs, explains that they prove nothing of the sort.
She writes “At a procedural level, Boris Johnson had nothing to do with these talks, which took place in 2017 and 2018 when Theresa May was Prime Minister. Nor were these formal negotiations at all. They were part of the preliminary scoping dialogue permitted while the UK is still an EU member state.”
And regarding the fact that the documents show UK and US civil servants explaining their respective positions on complex matters like intellectual property rights (IPR), she observes
“Jeremy Corbyn is asking us to believe that the very fact that patents were discussed is evidence that the Conservatives are set on making changing to our laws that would strengthen patent protection afforded to pharmaceutical products and therefore keep the prices paid by the NHS for patented drugs higher for longer.
“Putting aside the question of why a British government would do such a thing (and the fact that trade agreements to which we are party through our EU membership include chapters on IPR, so discussing these matters is completely normal), in substance the UK team gave no indication at all that they would countenance adopting the US approach. Quite the reverse”.
“It was made clear that the UK will remain part of the European Patent Convention, and at that time was also seeking associate membership of the European Medicines Agency. Remember, these documents reflect conversations held in the era of the Chequers Plan, which would have seen the UK align to EU regulations on goods, and the UK would have had had little flexibility to move in many of these matters anyway.
“It is unfortunate that these documents, marked “Official-Sensitive (UK eyes only)”, have been leaked. No doubt the US negotiators have read the UK’s internal commentary on the talks with interest, and will have questions to ask about security. But they offer a fascinating insight into the discussions that, even at a time when the UK was seeking to align with the EU in a ‘common rule book’, show a breadth of ambition and considerable commitment to the realisation of a Free Trade Agreement between the UK and the US.
“For those of us interested in trade policy, Mr Corbyn has done a great service in revealing the confidential content of these discussions. In the interests of integrity in political debate, however, and trust between allies at a vital time for this country, perhaps not so much”.
Integrity in political debate? Now that would be news!