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Foreign Secretary and Tory leadership hopeful Jeremy Hunt says the NHS not on the table in US trade talks

‘The NHS, as a publicly run, publicly owned institution is part of our DNA’

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt hit back at suggestions by the US Ambassador that the NHS would be “on the table” in trade talks with the UK saying the “publicly run” institution is part of the UK’s “DNA” and would be a red line in any negotiations.

The former health secretary added his voice to that of the current Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock in rejecting the suggestions the UK could negotiate access to its health service, saying the issue would be a red line in talks on a future trade deal.

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Speaking to the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme on Monday morning as US President Donald Trump lands in the UK for a state visit, Mr Hunt said that trade in pharmaceuticals could be discussed but access to the NHS would not.

‘I can’t imagine that ever being part of trade talks’

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He told the programme: “I can’t conceive of any future Prime Minister for any party, ever agreeing that we would allow NHS procurement to be part of trade talks, because the NHS, as a publicly run, publicly owned institution is part of our DNA.”

“Now, that’s not to say that pharmaceutical products, drugs, those kinds of things, which are freely traded between countries couldn’t be discussed, but the ownership of the NHS and of NHS services, I can’t imagine that ever being part of trade talks.”

But he argued that this would not prevent the UK getting a post-Brexit trade deal with the US, saying: “I think we could get one very quickly.”

“We have things that are are red lines, and they have things that are their red lines, and that’s completely normal in a trade negotiation.”

‘The NHS is not for sale’

His successor in the department, Mr Hancock, who is responsible for the running of the NHS tweeted a similar message saying: “My American friends, know this: The NHS is not for sale.”

“Yes we’d love to make it cheaper to buy your life-saving pharmaceuticals – but the NHS will not be on the table in any future trade talks.”

Both are in the running to succeed Theresa May as Tory Party leader and Prime Minister

NHS ‘on the table’

The issue of the NHS came to the fore as the UK welcomes Mr Trump for an official state visit, after it was raised by his ambassador Woody Johnson.

He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show on Sunday: “Your national healthcare service is the pride of the country. It’s a highly emotionally charged issue.”

But he added: “I think probably the entire economy, in a trade deal all things that are traded will be on the table” and when he was asked if that includes healthcare, Mr Johnson replied: “I would think so.”

The comments were quickly seized on by anti-Brexit campaigners, who said the demands showed the sacrifices that will be made to replace lost trade with the European Union.

Labour MP Jo Stevens, a campaigner for a ‘People’s Vote’, said: “Donald Trump’s administration has now made it clear just what it will be demanding from the UK in return for a trade deal – and one of those things is that we let big US companies run riot in the NHS.

“One demand of the US is that the NHS pay more to US drug companies and that that US drug companies, the very corporations that have caused the opioid crisis in their home countries through reckless marketing and pressure on doctors, get full access to the NHS – long a demand from US mega-lobbyists in the pay of Big Pharma.

“British consumers will lose their rights and protections and the NHS will be turned into a playpen for huge US corporate interests.”

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