It's no secret that David Cameron is in favour of the transatlantic TTIP deal currently being debated all across Europe. Scarily, if we vote ourselves out of the EU in June, we could end up with an even stronger version of TTIP than other European countries. That could mean harsher working practices becoming the norm, losing hard-won environmental protections and food standard laws, and the permanent dismantling of our NHS in favour of private healthcare.
Unite recently sent out a legal report written by Michael Bowsher QC to every politician in the UK. The report indicates that there is a "real and serious risk" to our NHS from TTIP. (You can read the report here) and I contacted my great MP, Kerry McCarthy, for her thoughts on the matter. I received the following email:
"Thank you for your email about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the NHS. I was sent a hard copy of the legal report of Michael Bowsher QC by Unite, which I read with interest, and can assure you that I understand your concerns in this area.
Like you, I would be deeply concerned if TTIP threatened government decision-making with respect to the NHS. Throughout the negotiations on the proposed trade deal, Labour has consistently called for the NHS and other public services to be protected in any agreement. I was glad when the European Parliament last year voted against the inclusion of investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanisms in TTIP, a move which was backed by Labour MEPs, but know of the concerns about the Investment Court System (ICS) now being proposed as a replacement.
Particularly given my role as Shadow Environment Secretary, I am also clear that TTIP must not be used as an excuse to weaken protections in the EU. For instance, on food standards, the EU has an established precautionary principle and has much higher standards on issues like food labelling or the use of hormones in meat than the US, so I do not want to see this principle undermined or the EU market opened up to imports that do not meet these standards. The EU Commission's mandate is at least very clear when it comes to an issue like food standards and neither I, nor the Labour Party generally, could support the final deal unless it satisfies EU concerns on safety.
In addition to a pledge to protect the NHS in TTIP, Labour’s 2015 General Election manifesto included a promise to 'hold the European Commission to account on issues of concern, including the impact on public services and the ISDS Mechanism.’ We also advocated for greater transparency in TTIP negotiations. While we are not now in government to deliver on these commitments, I can assure you that Labour has continued to push the Government to ensure that our vital public services are protected under any trade deal.
A debate on TTIP was held in Parliament on 10th December 2015. During this discussion the Shadow Trade Minister, Kevin Brennan MP, reiterated that Labour does support a trade deal in principle – due to potential benefits in areas like job creation, higher consumer standards and better wages – but that a number of vital tests must be met first. As Kevin Brennan said: ‘the first key test is the ability of the deal to deliver jobs and growth. The second is that it should be open and accountable. The third is the aim to achieve the highest possible standards regarding social and environmental concerns and, of course, wages. Fourthly, the agreement must allow enough space for national Governments to act in their own interests and according to their own democratic mandates.’
These tests also apply to other free trade agreements, such as CETA and TiSA, and Labour MPs have been questioning the Government on the implications of these proposed deals in Parliament in recent months as well (e.g. here). As mentioned above, our MEPs have similarly been scrutinising the deals in the European Parliament, which will have to ratify any agreements. You may therefore like to contact your MEPs about this matter, whose contact details you can find here.
It is my understanding that both TTIP and CETA will also have to be ratified in the national parliaments of the EU member states once negotiations are complete. When this does take place, I can assure you that my Labour colleagues and I will be scrutinising the proposed trade agreements in detail, and challenging any parts of it which may harm the NHS.
I appreciate you writing to me about this matter. Please let me know if you have further thoughts or questions.
Kerry McCarthy Labour MP for Bristol East