(Bloomberg) — Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn accused Boris Johnson’s Conservatives of seeking to sell out the U.K.’s National Health Service in secret trade talks with the U.S.
The opposition leader released a 451-page document, which he said detailed preparatory trade meetings between U.K. and U.S. officials, as he sought to play on voter concerns about creeping privatization in the state-funded health care system. The previously redacted papers show the U.S. seeking “total market access” to the U.K. and suggest a no-deal Brexit is the preferred U.S. option because “there would be all to play for,” he said.
“This election is now a fight for the survival of our National Health Service,” Corbyn told reporters at an event in central London. “We are talking here about secret talks for a deal with Donald Trump after Brexit. A deal that will shape our country’s future.”
Labour turned to a subject it sees as a strength as it tried to draw a line under the antisemitism row that’s engulfed the party with just over two weeks before the Dec. 12 election. Surveys have repeatedly shown voters trust Labour more on health care than they trust Johnson’s Conservatives.
International Trade Secretary Liz Truss dismissed Corbyn’s accusations as a “conspiracy theory” and said people “should not believe a word” he says.
“As we have consistently made clear: the NHS will not be on the table in any future trade deal and the price that the NHS pays for drugs will not be on the table,” Truss said in a statement. “This sort of conspiracy theory-fueled nonsense is not befitting of the leader of a major political party.”
Johnson has repeatedly said the health service won’t be part of post-Brexit trade talks with the U.S., most recently on Wednesday morning, when, less than an hour before Corbyn took to his podium, he tweeted a denial.
In his presentation, Corbyn held up a redacted version of U.S. discussions that had been released by the government and then the unredacted version obtained by Labour, which he said “is a very different version of events.“
“Perhaps he’d like to explain why these documents confirm the U.S. is demanding the NHS is on the table in the trade talks?” Corbyn said. “These uncensored documents leave Boris Johnson’s denials in absolute tatters.”
Corbyn said U.S. pharmaceutical companies want to force up the price the NHS pays for drugs as part of a trade deal, noting that U.S. President Donald Trump regularly complains about the “unreasonably low prices” other countries pay for medicines. He also said U.K. officials conceded “NHS access to generic drugs will be a key consideration” in talks, and they are entering a “very advanced stage.”
He gave the example of AbbVie Inc.’s Humira — a drug for the treatment of Crohn’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis — which he said costs the NHS 1,409 pounds ($1,815) a packet, compared to 8,115 pounds ($10,450) in the U.S..
Corbyn again faced questions about his leadership after U.K. Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said on Tuesday that his claim to be tackling antisemitism were “mendacious fiction” and asked whether he’s fit to run the country. Writing in the Times newspaper, he said “a new poison, sanctioned from the top, has taken root” in Labour.
“I made it very clear antisemitism is completely wrong in our society,” Corbyn said when asked if he would apologize. “Our party did make it clear when I was elected leader, and after, that antisemitism is unacceptable in any form in our party or society and did indeed offer its sympathies and apologies to those that had suffered.”
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