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On TTIP and the NHS, they are trying to bamboozle us


The NHS has become a key battleground for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the controversial treaty currently being negotiated in secret between the European Commission and the US government.

Now that more and more people are becoming aware of the threat that TTIP poses to public services, the European Commission and its friends have found a new and inventive way of trying to bamboozle people into accepting it.

On the eve of the sixth round of talks, which begin in Brussels this week, a ‘private’ letter from the EU’s chief negotiator, Ignacio Garcia Bercero, to John Healey MP was conveniently leaked to the Guardian and Financial Times. The letter attempts to downplay the fact that public health services are included in TTIP, suggesting that there is no need to fear for the NHS as a result.

The media went further, suggesting that there was to be a ‘carve out’ for the NHS, or that US companies would not be allowed to run public health services in the future. Both claims are entirely false.

The first thing to note is that there is nothing new in the letter, nor any change in the EU’s position. The European Commission has used exactly the same arguments to defend the inclusion of health, education and other public services in all previous trade agreements, as those of us who have been engaged in these debates for the past 20 years know all too well. Yet trade experts point out that public services are still highly vulnerable when they are included in negotiations, particularly when private operators have been granted access to public sector contracts, as is the case with the NHS.

The second thing to note is that the letter came from the chief EU negotiator to one of the principal cheerleaders for TTIP in Britain. John Healey chairs the all-party parliamentary group on EU-US investment, and has been doing his best to prevent trade unions and campaign groups from joining opposition to TTIP over the past few months. Happily, all major trade unions in Britain are now part of the campaign to stop TTIP. So here are some basic truths on the NHS and TTIP, starting with the most important and getting more technical as they go on:

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