There’s actually a lot of agreement between Labour and UKIP on the proposed EU-USA trade deal (TTIP).
We agree, I think, that public services – and in particular the NHS – should not be opened up to competition from American companies.
We agree, I hope, that the notion of allowing companies to sue national governments if they don’t like their policies is absurd. And that’s why UKIP opposes the Investor-State Dispute Settlement. You can see why the Americans want it in; they don’t have the same level of trust in all 28 countries and want some recourse in law. But it’s not in the UK’s interests (and if we were allowed to negotiate our own trade deal with the USA they probably wouldn’t even be requesting it).
So what was yesterday’s spat all about? It was, at its heart, a clash between pragmatism and naïveté.
The Parliament committees aren’t really voting on TTIP at the moment. Of course they aren’t – they couldn’t just amend a proposed treaty at will, without consulting the other side! The European Parliament is considering what it thinks the EU’s negotiating position should be.
So in yesterday’s committee, William Dartmouth for UKIP proposed amendments which specified and named the British NHS as requiring protection from TTIP. Exclude other public services as well? By all means – but make no mistake about it: the NHS is a red line. We will not allow it to be privatised by a trade deal.
The Labour MEPs proposed a ‘compromise agreement’ which removed specific mention of the NHS – but did say that public services should be exempted.
Technically they’re right that no mention of the NHS is specifically required, but that’s monumentally naive. We’re discussing what the EU’s negotiating position should be.
With William’s amendment, we’d have sent a clear message to the Americans: hands off our NHS. He knew what he was doing and why. Now, the message that will be sent to America is less clear.
The Labour ‘compromise amendment’ stopped William’s amendment being voted upon; it seems that, rather than consider the benefits of a specific mention of the NHS Labour would rather ensure that an amendment didn’t pass which was proposed by UKIP. Would they have done the same, I wonder, had it been a Lib Dem amendment?
William Dartmouth is an experienced member of the Trade Committee of the European Parliament. He’s seen this all before and knew what he was doing and why. Has Labour Party politics just made the fight for our NHS a shade harder to win?